My daughter was mistaken for a homeless person outside the Books A Million last week, and the most shocking thing about this is that I completely missed the warning.
She went to the bookstore for some type of heated, after-school debate about a group project. Her best friend gave her a ride to the bookstore, and, true to form, my daughter talked her into running through a drive through for some chicken nuggets before dropping her off. Happily clutching her nugget bag, she headed toward the store, deciding at the last minute to eat her nuggets on the sidewalk before going in.
About halfway through the bag, she was startled when a passer-by of about four years old shrieked out a gleeful request for a nugget only to receive a stern scolding from her scandalized mother. “She’s homeless, dear,” the mother said, giving my daughter a wide berth while steering her child in the opposite direction. “We don’t take food from the homeless!”
We figured the unfortunate mistake was the result of the anteater-at-a-picnic style with which the kid tends to attack a bag of nuggets. It also could have had something to do with the oversized pieces of art and the graffiti-covered gear she had in tow. I’m sure the B-B-Q sauce stains on her sleeves didn’t help.
However, it wasn’t until today that I realized that my daughter's appearance, though undoubtedly a contributing factor, may not have been the primary reason the woman assumed her to be homeless. My working theory is that she probably lives near the Books A Million and sees this kind of thing all the time. Just as the streets of Vegas are populated by those unfortunate souls who pass the time idly feeding the nickel slots, the sidewalks in front of the Books A Million are doubtless strewn with those who count their wealth soely in terms of pages turned. Proximity to the bookstore won't let this vigilant woman lose sight of a fact that I had forgotten:
Reading is addictive.
Although one seldom hears cautionary tales about the pitfalls of reading, I submit here in this forum that, as far as compulsive behaviors go, reading habits need to be regarded with the same concern as gluttony, or off-track betting.
Not that I’m a stranger to reading—-indeed, books are a part of my daily life. It’s just that in recent years, I have managed to convince myself that I don’t have much time to read for pleasure.
I’m not sure how it happened. I grew up consuming Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden on a book-a-day basis. I absorbed Michael Bond and CS Lewis, their British influences infusing my own speech and writing with phrases like “Crikey!” and “there was a row in the queue,” and the tendency to use the favoured spelling of the Monarchy.
It’s just that responsible adult life isn’t designed to accommodate addictive behavior. Even when it masquerades as a wholesome, educational pursuit.
Ironically, my love for literature was rekindled when I got desperately behind on some in-class reading and my husband got me hooked on listening to CD books on my commutes. Eventually, I became so adept at employing CD literature that I got ahead in my reading, and discovered that I had time to listen to other books, too, just for fun.
But I got greedy, which is how I came to find myself crouched in the nonfiction aisle of the Books A Million, sucking up chapters of Tuesdays With Morrie like my daughter on a bag of chicken nuggets.
Remembering the triple digit page count I faced in the form of weekend reading homework, I prudently slid the book back on the shelf when my daughter was ready to go home.
But when I woke up in the morning, Morrie was still with me. I had know what happened, how his talks about life, and love, and death progressed, and how many of Mitch’s questions would be answered before Morrie’s Final Chapter.
I went to the library, ostensibly to pick up a book for school, which I forgot, and left with Morrie, who is far more interesting than linguistics, Chaucer, or that horrible book I have to read for my multicultural literature class. Morrie slam-dunks anything in my sociology book (although, he was, ironically, a sociology professor). Needless to say, Morrie trumps laundry, and dusting, and, to be honest, I read him behind my own booth at the Virginia Festival of the Book on Saturday.
I stayed with Morrie clear through to the end, and all I have to say is that it’s a good thing Morrie’s account wasn’t contained in a lengthier tome.
It’s also fortunate that my husband has a good job, because although my daughter was mistaken for a homeless person, I'd otherwise be in danger of becoming one, especially since my daughter's group is meeting at the Books A Million again tomorrow and I have to pick her up. The truth is, I could come home with anything, and be well on my way to a downward spiral. Indeed, I could even now, be in the final chapters of Responsible Living.
Come to think of it, I think I’ll just wait for her on the sidewalk outside the store and eat a snack.