What kind of reader are you?

[— Karen Myers —]

That’s an easy one for me to answer. I’m an obligatory reader. If my eyes are open and not otherwise occupied, I’m reading.

It’s always been this way. My older brother and I had organized conspiracies vs the parents, and so I wouldn’t rat him out when he took their other car out for a ride when they went out to dinner, and he wouldn’t keep me from staying up late reading under the hall light when he was supposed to be babysitting me. It was a good deal while it lasted (until they finally caught him one memorable evening).

When I was circa 8, I had insomnia that woke me up every night for several hours. I learned to raid the house for books (all kinds) and to stuff a towel under the bedroom door to keep the light from leaking out and betraying my activities. Flashlight batteries were too difficult for me to acquire, but my closet door had an automatic light that let me read mostly beneath the covers.

My parents were generally oblivious to all of this. Mind you, it wasn’t until I was 10 that anyone realized I couldn’t see the big “E” on an eye chart and glasses entered my life (who knew you could tell when someone was looking at you by where their eyeballs were pointed…? It was fascinating finally seeing what whistling looked like, and how it was done.)

I never went anywhere, and I mean anywhere, without at least the current book and a spare, and my gravest disappointment was motion sickness if I tried to read in a car (had to count things, instead). From 4th grade on, I never went to school without several books to last me the day, since the classes were so boring. Thankfully, my teachers were pretty much amenable to a pact along the lines of letting me read in class as long as I got A’s and agreed not to disrupt the class with sarcastic remarks. Another good deal, and that one lasted until college.

Does it matter what you read? I don’t think so. The age-inappropriate material mostly just washed off me (with the exception of The Painted Bird which remains an abomination at any age).

I have met people who don’t read. (What is wrong with them?)

What are your stories about reading? Obsessive? Choosy? Hidden? Broad or narrow? (Cereal boxes don’t count…)

45 thoughts on “What kind of reader are you?

  1. I was also a constant reader. The only thing that stops me is writing. It’s cut down my reading horribly.

    I had three libraries within bicycling distance and it was a rare day that I didn’t need to ride to one or another. And if disappointed, ride to one of the others. In high school there were a few times I hit the library before first period and turned in the book report after lunch.

    1. It would have been nice to have more than one library in town. I never thought of that. When I was young I lived in a one library town.

  2. When I was in junior high school my parents switched school districts so I went into 8th grade as an awkward shy kid who knew no one. It was an awfully isolated year, but I read so many books that year. It kept me reading through high school, even when I finally had some friends, and I’ve managed to keep the habit going through today, although there were some years I neglected it due to international moves with small children, taking care of small children, etc.

    As a reader I’m pretty uncritical. I like to enjoy a story regardless of if it’s Hemingway or Roy Thomas and John Buscema. I’m currently trying not to be too annoyed by the way 1Q84 is written. I’m about halfway into the first book but it’s at least intriguing enough to keep me from giving up so far.

    1. I switched (all girl) schools after 4th grade (I’m so proud — I was expelled from a convent school (not just a parochial school) for “excessive insolence” — let’s just say that organized religion didn’t “take” (the fossil record had a lot to answer for vs Genesis)) and when my new classmates asked what I had read that summer, I told them (hard to choose from dozens) Little Women. And when they asked how long that took, I told them two days (it was one, but I was worried they might think I was boasting). They didn’t believe me.

      It took the thirty-odd of them a year to come to terms with some facts: they couldn’t beat me up (I was always the youngest in my class, but I hit puberty early and I was too stubborn and would never acknowledge defeat even when outnumbered), they couldn’t make me embarrassed about reading all the time, and they couldn’t ostracize me successfully (I always had books to entertain me). So I suspect this was as educational for them as it was for me. By 7th grade we had a rough truce going (and I was tutoring several of them in math).

  3. Pretty much obligatory from about 3rd grade on when I started in on The Hardy Boys books. I was also a clandestine night reader. After my mother started asking where the kitchen flashlight was disappearing to I ended up reading under the covers by the light of my electric clock. Red isn’t the easiest color to read by, and I think it’s why I ended up needing glasses while still in grade school. By the time I was in junior high I always had a paperback book in my back pocket (not a great way to preserve the things) and then in high school when I got my first leather bomber jacket I started using the inside pocket. Even now I always have an eReader with me. My favorite genres are SF/F, mystery (what they now call cozy mysteries I just call mystery since Christie and MacLeod are what I grew up with), and history/biography (particularly WWII, aviation, and baseball).

    1. We had a teacher who had a big bookshelf full of Hardy Boys and some Nancy Drew; he bribed me to behave in class with “finish your work and read whatever you want.”

      Inhaled those things!

  4. That pretty much describes my reading history (without the older brother) and relationship with teachers to a “T”. Thank Bezos for the Kindle. It’s a lot easier to read while waiting in lines or at a doctor’s office than the paperbacks I used to carry in my back pocket. SF, not fantasy, and history were my goto reads. Now I’ve started to read more urban fantasy as the harder SF that I liked disappeared from the shelves for a while. Finding Baen was a godsend as was finding this blog. I’m retired now and my wife has to remind me not to read at the dinner table.

  5. Eclectic. I ask my wife for specific books for Christmas because she can’t guess what I might like.

    Also a compulsive re-reader: if a book is worth reading once it’s worth reading any number of times.

  6. We are all related, somehow. Obligatory. My parents learned if they didn’t want me to read it they needed to put it out of reach. I memorized, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” around eight, and bits of it are still with me; what I didn’t have context to understand I just accepted. And I read the encyclopedia for fun, routinely maxxed out my library card and got early admission to the adult section.
    It worries me a little that I’m doing a lot more re-reading of favorites and slowing down on new stuff. But read I must.

    1. My mother (a WWII war bride from Antwerp (hence the Belgian convent school attempt in Kansas City)) audited a lot of local university lit classes, and those books were littered on the shelves I could reach (which is how I was ambushed by The Painted Bird with all of its sexual sadism).

      At, say, 10, I never really noticed things like sex scenes (in the usual low-key specific reference writing of the 50s-60s), until one day I dropped a casual remark to her that made it clear I had read all her Ian Fleming Bond books and she reacted unexpectedly. I was puzzled about what she disapproved of until I drew the connection but, really, it was harmless.

      The occasional half-hearted attempts at religious encouragement by my mother were undercut by the fact that my (Jewish) father dropped me off at church by myself on Sundays (age 8-10). Since the marvels of a conventional liturgy were fairly limited as reading material for an hour, (and I had already long since dismissed their conversion power as a form of alternate reality) I learned to sit in the back row, unaccompanied, with a book (or two) in as low-profile a manner as I could accomplish, and my suburban pew-mates left me alone. I do remember those otherwise tedious services fondly as my first introduction to Greek (“Kyrie”), which I could tell couldn’t possibly be Latin, though I didn’t know what language it was for quite a while.

      Sigh… I was raised in comfort by wolves. Well-intentioned wolves, but still… It does shape one’s character, and I’m glad I ended up strong, but it wouldn’t have worked for everyone. My charismatic older brother (Paul Newman-esque, and all the girls loved him), seems to have been rather more fragile and it didn’t end well for him. Our birthdays align (I’m Xmas and he was Xmas Eve), so this is always something of a sad season for me.

  7. I was an obligatory reader. And I read just about everything (yes, including cereal boxes because… words.) Then somewhere around basic training books just… dried up. I could re-read but there was NOTHING new to read. A lot of it was the late 90s/early oughts issues with trad publishing. Awesome book one? Book 2 is no where you can get it, and it was very early days of online shopping. Or book 2 would jump the shark if it was there. It broke a lot of trust I had in authors. (Baen’s book CDs actually saved me from only ever re-reading.)

    I’m slowly getting back to the obligatory reader. The impulse is still there (words must be read) but trusting new books and new fiction authors? Often still like pulling teeth, though it’s getting better (Honestly? Thank you Amanda Green and Eerie side of the Tracks for starting to break that barrier that the Baen CD left a crack in.).

  8. I read anything that stayed still. My parents put the “not ready for those yet” books up on high shelves, which worked quite well. The library back then had a pretty generous policy about letting kids read non-kid books. There were a few I wish someone had said, “That’s not really appropriate for a 12-13 year old, but here’s something with a similar setting . . .” but those all came from the library. (The Necroscope was one. A few others were sort of “Mad Max meets The Painted Bird.” Yeah . . .) My teachers didn’t really blink too much at my reading, although one complained about foul language in a murder mystery. So I pulled “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” off the classroom shelf and read that instead (6th grade).

    Most of what I read was military history, popular science, and classic sci-fi (Clark, Azimov, McCaffrey, Norton, et al). I found mil-sci-fi in my late teens. The past few years I’ve been reading about 90% non-fiction and 10% fiction because of Day Job and book research. I need to bring it back to 50/50.

  9. I started reading at 3 and was reading Tolkien at 7. I got in trouble in 1st grade for being able to read, in 4th and 5th for having a book open under my desk instead of doing class work, and in 6th grade for “looking at the pictures” instead of reading (pro tip – if you’re going to accuse a student of looking at the pictures, make sure there actually are pictures in her book). My early reading was heavily influenced by the books in the house – thus the Tolkien and Heinlein exposure early in life – and then I settled on SciFi and Fantasy, though romance is my no-brain reading, and I strangely enjoyed Crime and Punishment in high school.

  10. I am an ex-obligatory reader. Used to consume 5 paperbacks a week. All SF of course. Also comics. All of them. I’d buy Marvel’s full monthly output andd most of DC.

    1993 I stopped buying comics cold-turkey, because they were awful. About 2012 I stopped buying books, same reason. Mental hygiene.

    Pressure built up I guess, because I started writing in earnest about then. Now I just write. All my reading is blogs (which I am cutting back on bigtime). Television viewing is mostly YouTubes of woodworking and anime on Crunchyroll. Haven’t been to a movie theater since 2019.

    In other news I see that the top selling comics in North America are now Japanese. Manga is beating Marvel and DC (and allllll the rest of them too) in their own market. Because what would you rather read? Gay Superman and Gay Batman (not kidding, that’s where they’re going) or Sword Art Online and Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy?

    Market says SAO and Tsukimichi. Comics (and publishing generally) have their fingers in their ears and are screaming “LALALALALALAAAAA” as loud as they can. That’s okay with me, they said they didn’t want my money loud and clear. I’ll spend it on wood instead.

  11. It’s a very rare day when I don’t read. Nonfiction at the table and fiction at the bedside.

    I remember very clearly the day I got glasses in the 2nd grade. It was the first time I saw leaves on the tree, instead of only on the ground.

    Trees had always been a solid mass of green.

    1. When I got my first glasses at 10, my mother was primed to reject the whole concept (daughter-with-glasses). Meanwhile, when I put them on in the store, nothing made any sense. I dug in my heels and refused to leave unless someone serious checked them out. It was quite a fight.

      I won. They discovered that one of the prescription signs had been “reversed” and then, while we waited for the replacements, they explained to my mother that I couldn’t see leaves on trees, etc. I received hard contact lenses at 12, when they weren’t using those for children, just to keep the eyes from getting worse. Happily, I stayed correctible (and good enough for NRA 50′ .22 Expert qualification).

  12. I guess I’m dating myself, but I credit my reading addiction to a lack of options on screen. The cartoon version of Lord of the Rings utterly fascinated me, but if I wanted to know more about the story and universe I’d have to tackle the books. And the taste I got from the cartoons were so tantalizing that I had to go into those doorstops, even if I was maybe a little young for them.

    Same thing with Star Wars. There was a long stretch where there were no new movies or shows, not even the prequels, so I sought out the EU novels. This was a time when big, important things were happening in the universe, and only depicted on the pages.

    1. Would you believe I used to be intimidated by books-without-pictures? But if I wanted to know more about Lord of the Rings or know what happened after Return of the Jedi I had to read…so I read.

  13. Obligatory reader. I don’t remember not being able to read, I taught myself when I was three or so. My parents had the Time-Life science library and I went through those. My mother lectured me on not trying to walk and read at the same time. As to what I read – mostly fiction. My brother is into history and nonfiction and I need to give those a try. And I used to be one of those people who said they didn’t like SF… until I realized I was actually reading a fair amount of it. I still am not a fan of hard scifi, as in my experience of that genre the characters get short shrift.

  14. obligatory reader, from around age 7. Transition point was probably Wizard of Oz the movie to the Oz books (never cared much for the original or the Land of Oz, but starting with Ozma of Oz they got to be pretty good fun.) Also read the Jungle Book over and over again.

    As an adult writing fantasy and sci-fi, I tend to default to reading mysteries and thrillers for some reason; I think partly because I’ve burned through the SF&F stuff I like so completely.

  15. The parenthetical comment to The Painted Bird — of which I don’t think I had ever heard — sent me down a rabbit hole into the life of Jerzy Kosinski, and what a perfect avatar of 1960s and 1970s elite fraud and pretentiousness he was! I only knew him as the author of Being There, and it turns out Chance the Gardener might well be a veiled depiction of his own author. Except that Chance is an innocent who is misunderstood by everyone he meets, and Kosinski seems to have been a sociopath who read the culture he got himself into by fraud (he invented a foundation to “sponsor” his immigration to the United States, and forged letters to Polish communist authorities claiming he would definitely return, which allowed him to leave) perfectly, understanding just exactly which buttons he had to push to become an “important” intellectual.

    1. The Painted Bird is a very graphic depiction of sexual and other torture by peasant underclasses incidental to WWII. “Gratuitous” is the least that can be said about it, and I don’t recommend dipping into it. It’s basically torture porn in the literal sense and leaves nothing at all to the imagination.

      And, yes, Kosinski was a fashionable darling, which is why my mother happened to stumble across him in an audit class at the local university, and left the book as a land mine on a shelf circa 1964. It’s the only “adult” book I ever regretted getting my hands on (like accidentally drinking poison), and when I looked back on it as an adult myself, I still found it completely unredeemed.

      1. It was published in 1965, from what I’ve seen, but yeah. The description, even put vaguely, that I found reeked of “pretentious literary schlock” in that very special 1960s way.

        The fact that pretentious darling of the literati David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Smirk (sic), saw fit to praise an “underappreciated” Kosinski novel before he offed himself, pretty much cemented my judgement-at-a-distance.

        Kosinski’s frauds and social climbing make me a bit sorry that he was only revealed starting in the 1980s, because it looks like amazing fodder for Orson Welles to have done a follow-up to F for Fake, one of my favorite movies (which starts off about art forgery, and ends up being a meditation on the nature of artistic creation itself).

  16. Voracious and obsessive. In high school bout 64 or so, I started at the door inside the library and read my way through the dewey decimal system. OK, not all, but quite enough to make writing papers easy. Soph year, I started on the 20′ double shelved double sided fiction section. During that, I discovered Heinlein, Asimov and science fiction. Paperbacks then were a joy. One in the back pocket and one in my hands. Retirement is a joy. I have spent my life reading books in an episodic way. Now I can follow the story all the way through. I enjoyed your article. Bill in Tucson

  17. Obligatory reader here. If it’s text, I’ve got to read it. I was an Air Force brat, and once I was old enough to go to the base library on my own I would check out several books each week. When I had run through the interesting stuff in the children’s section, I realized that the librarians didn’t really care that I was going into the grown-ups section. There I found more books by the authors (Heinlein, etc.) that I had already found and had read all of the books they had in the children’s room.

    I also started branching out into other authors that didn’t appear in the children’s room. That wasn’t always a success – Valley of the Dolls was just too boring for my twelve year old mind, even though a school teacher asked if my parents knew I was reading it. History and technology books also became a large part of what I read, and still are to this day.

    The rise of the e-book has simplified my life considerably, since I can now carry several hundred books in my pocket in the memory of my phone. I never have to worry about running out of things to read any more.

  18. I had to laugh at your description of getting glasses at 10. Same here. They had no clue that I couldn’t see the board in school or much of anything else. After getting my glasses, I told my father I never realized you could see the individual leaves on trees. I always thought they were like you drew in 1st grade – big, fluffy green things. My father said he never felt so guilty.

    I also became much better at baseball once I realized you could actually see the ball coming at you.

    1. What really pissed me off was that my 7-years older brother’s deficient eyesight wasn’t discovered until he was that age, and then no one bothered to test me.

      For years, my brother and I were downright obnoxious whenever we encountered someone in charge of a pre-teen, making sure the kid’s eyes had been checked.

      1. Oh, I did the eye chart test every year at school and passed with flying colors. How? We were lined up to take the test and the chart was on the wall beside the door we came in. I thought it was a competition. So I memorized the chart waiting for my turn. Yes, I was a competitive little squirt. I only got “caught” when an observant doctor suspected something and threw a test at me I had never seen.

        1. The docs at school didn’t believe me when I said I couldn’t read anything more than the E. They thought I was just uncooperative. So they didn’t bother finishing the test.

          It wasn’t until IIRC a teacher told my folks, “I don’t think Tex can see well, even on the front row,” that I went to a real optometrist. Guess what? 20/100 and 20/70, both near sighted and astigmtic. Been in glasses ever since. Explains why I kept getting car sick. (That’s an early warning sign that my prescription needs updating – car sickness when not driving.)

  19. I’ve been an omnivorous reader, with different phases. I’ve always been thankful I grew up without a TV, and my father read to us every night.

    I’ve read Hardy Boys, Tolkien, Lewis, various other SF/F (tilted towards fantasy), fairy tales, mythology (before it was cool), classic literature (Jane Austen! Waugh!), Wodehouse, mystery, general history, naval history, aviation (light planes especially), philosophy, theology, computers, and probably more.

    I’m not a thriller fan, nor textbook fan, nor political book fan. And after kids, I’ve had to cut my reading down a lot, but one kid loves to read anything, and the other likes to read selected books (e.g. manga).

      1. My parents taught us that meal times were for interacting with each other. That said, all of us read during a solitary meal.

  20. Cereal boxes don’t count? What about ketchup and mustard bottles?

    (Wife and I went out to dinner tonight. I caught myself reading the A-1 bottle when she wandered off to the restroom. One tablespoon serving size, pretty much zero of anything interesting. Three grams of sugar, though – two of them being “added sugar.”)

    1. There are people who have to carry around medical devices all the time (glucose monitors, etc.), and they learn to do what’s necessary. I class my ereader as a medical device… as essential as my glasses & hearing aids.

  21. Another obligatory reader, here. It was more obvious when I was a kid; nowadays I have the choice between reading someone else’s words or writing my own. So I don’t carry books with me, I just carry my brain and write mentally when I’m bored in public.
    I have fairly eclectic tastes, though weirdly, considering the company I keep, I’m not really into science fiction. Fantasy, mystery, classics- I’m that weirdo who chose to read Tacitus’s Germania by flashlight when the power went out. When I was younger, I read almost exclusively fiction, but I’ve been increasing the proportion of nonfiction these past few years.

  22. Obligatory reader, as well. I was a bit of a slow starter, but my fifth grade year, I was homeschooled and read my way through my parents bookshelf. Grave’s Mythology was eye-opening, particularly the sections on Life and Deeds of Aphrodite and Life and Deeds of Zeus. And Life and Deeds of… well, most of the other gods and goddesses.

    I read less than I used to, but I think that is more busyness and not trusting most modern publishing.


  23. As common, obligatory reader. Started SF with my father’s Tom Swift (the original, not the Tom Swift Jr. that I read later). And we had the “Book of Knowledge” encyclopedia at home, which was wonderful — I read through the entire thing, just because (a) it was reading material (see “obligatory”), and (b) all sorts of neat stuff that I didn’t know and could learn.

    Now, it’s mostly SF, with enough history (including military history) and science thrown in to keep me varying. A lot of it new — but when I hit a bad patch with SF (or just want comfort reading), I go back to Anderson, or Padgett (in all their names), or Brackett, or Doc Smith, or something like that.

    I was late to the ebook revolution, but, by now, almost all of my purchases are ebooks. And, when I moved a year or so ago, I had downsized my physical book collection by a few thousand books, either because I knew I’d never want to look at that book/magazine again, or because I’d gotten an ebook version of it.

    Got my first glasses at 6, just before my family was driving down to Miami Beach for winter vacation. On the beach, looked up, and confirmed with my parents that those little points of light, which I’d never seen before, were actually stars.

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