Powered by
Movable Type 3.2

November 29, 2005

First love

...and a side of existential angst. , Bookish , More about me than you ever wanted to know

You may have noticed that I hesitate to refer to this as a "knitting blog." And really, this isn't just because I write about things other than knitting. The truth is that in the world of knitting blogs, I've always felt like something of an imposter. And it's not because I've never actually finished a sweater. Okay, confession time: knitting really isn't my "thing," my one main hobby, my overriding passion. Now, this isn't to say that I don't love it. I really, really do. But - well, I guess it's as simple as this: by the time knitting came along, I was already taken. My first love came into my life early on, and knitting never really had a chance.

My mother tells me that after she brought me home from the hospital, the first place she took me "out" was the public library. And I was, basically, a goner from that point on. Now, I don't mean to imply that she planned it this way, or that said trip to the library necessarily cast a spell over me or something (although I wouldn't be surprised). No, she took me to the library because the fact that she was a first-time mom with a brand new baby didn't affect the more central issue: she needed to have something to read. The main thing (aside from work, household chores, etc.) that I can remember my parents doing when I was young is reading: my mother reading mysteries while cooking or folding laundry, my father ending the evening with the New Yorker, both of them reading to me constantly, incessantly. Given this environment and my own natural (genetic?) inclinations, is it any wonder that I started reading as soon as I could and haven't stopped since?

I don't remember learning to read; perhaps it is more accurate to say that I barely remember not being able to read. My parents never tried to teach me; they just read to me all the time and answered whenever I asked what a word or letter or sound was. They tell me that my teacher called them at the end of my first week of kindergarten. "Did you know that Katie can read?" Their response was something like "yeah, well, we sort of figured." They started early with their pattern of being laid back about academic stuff. This was probably good, as it soon became clear that I was uptight enough about it for all of us.

I was your classic bookworm as a child. I read when I was supposed to be cleaning my room or doing my homework. "Playing outside" often meant "reading outside." I was generally more interested in my books than my classmates; looking back, I realize that this probably showed and was undoubtedly part of the reason why I never felt I fit in. (Reading at recess is not necessarily the best way to make friends on the playground.) And even with the friends I did have - well, I never really felt I was part of the group, or perhaps even the same world, in a way. Books were generally more real to me than the things and events happening around me. And books were easier to understand than either the "real world" or the pop culture/TV stuff everyone else was talking about. (Still are, actually.) I've been spending way too much time recently trying to figure out whether I was different because I read so much or whether I read so much because I was different. It's probably a little of both.1

Looking back, it seems odd that, given the above, the idea of majoring in English in college never occurred to me until I was actually in college (and trying to be a physics major). Through middle school and most of high school, I was planning to be a professional musician; I gave up that plan because I realized that all those hours of practicing would cut into my reading time. You'd think that would have told me something, but it didn't. I considered majoring in math, history, philosophy, physics... but never literature. There were probably a few reasons for this. My mother, a doctor, tends to consider much of the humanities and social sciences to be "not real academic subjects." And I didn't tend to like English class that much in middle and high school: we had to read books a chapter at a time and take notes with stupid prescribed methods and try to discuss things with all these people who just didn't get it and, worse, didn't care. And then there was the writing aspect. I love to write, but... handing in papers with rough drafts and pre-writing? Sorry, my brain doesn't work that way.

So anyway. (Do I have a point here, other than the history of my life? I hope so. We'll get there.) My first semester of college, I was taking the classes that good little science majors are supposed to take - physics and calculus and stuff. And I also took an Intro to Poetry class because it sounded interesting and I wanted to round things out a bit. Well. Turns out, me and physics? Not so much. I still found (and find) the concepts fascinating, but Physics 100 was all about plugging numbers into equations, and half the time the professor didn't even really say what the equations were about. So I decided that I liked reading about physics more than actually doing physics. And that poetry class? Loved it. So the next semester I signed up for two literature classes2 and no physics classes (although I did take the second semester of calculus, just to hedge my bets). And, of course, I wound up majoring in literature. I probably shouldn't have been as surprised as I was.

By my senior year, though, I was feeling a bit burned out. Writing a thesis can do that, I guess. I started to feel like reading wasn't all that much fun anymore. I didn't stop reading - I don't think I could stop reading - but I didn't like it much either.3 I just did it, because that's what I did. And then, once I graduated, I realized that I could read whatever I wanted and was no longer in the middle of a bunch of precocious, self-absorbed adolescents who would make fun of me for reading Diane Mott Davidson or Nora Roberts. So I did. A lot. I half-consciously decided that I didn't like "hard" stuff and spent a few years reading mostly fluffy mysteries and romances. Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with mysteries or romances or any kind of book. It just wasn't a very good balance for me, personally.

And, really, it was much more about my thinking behind my choice of reading materials than it was about the books themselves. When I graduated from college, I was burned out, overwhelmed, scared, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.4 So I decided I had to be "normal." I started watching more TV and reading more "popular" stuff because I thought that, if I couldn't help but read constantly, I could at least read what normal people read. And, probably, a break after finishing the thesis and all was helpful. But I got stuck in that self-created literary cage and then forgot why I was there and then that it was even a cage in the first place. And this all meant that, basically, I forgot why I liked to read. I did it, I even enjoyed it, but the magic and mystery and meaning was all but forgotten.

(Warning: Here comes my point! I told you I'd get there!)

Now I think I'm starting to remember. Several factors (the break-up, boredom at work, living with someone passionate about books, working at the bookstore again) have combined in the past few months to remind me of why reading is so vitally important to me. And I'm loving it. And wanting to read all the time, which is hard with the two jobs and school and novel thing. Sometimes, honestly, I get a bit overwhelmed by all the wonderful books out there just begging to be read. (Working in a bookstore does not really help this.)

So I guess the reason I'm writing this is because I feel like I've sort of been giving reading short shrift recently, especially given all it's done for me. And I felt the need to correct the impression I'm afraid I give that knitting or whatever else is "more important" to me. Because if I ever had to choose to give up either reading or knitting for the rest of my life, well, I wouldn't really have to think about it. In one of her books5, Steph says something like "I knit so much that it has become a personality trait. Other people are kind or patient or friendly. I am knitting." And I am reading.

1 I don't think that all this reading was necessarily better for me, though, at least in terms of making me into a normal, well-adjusted person. I feel like there are lots of things I missed somehow (flirting? Make-up? Huh?), and I still haven't figured out where/when/why I missed them. But that's a post for another day.
2 Including "Agony in Stony Places." Yes, I really took a class called that. It never fails to amaze people. (Or at least people unfamiliar with my bizarre college. So all of you except Cate, go ahead and be amazed. And Cate gets a prize if she can guess who taught such a miserable-sounding class. ;-) )
3 This was also the time of the (related, I must think) decision that I hated academia and didn't want to go back ever, except maybe for a library degree, which was more "professional" than "academic," anyway. Um, right. Can I claim temporary insanity? Anyway, that's another post for another day.
4 Nota bene: "Move in with your ex-boyfriend" is very rarely a good solution to this sort of issue.
5 I promise I'll check the quote when I get home.

Posted by Kat at November 29, 2005 02:36 PM

Wow. I don't even know where to begin talking about how many parts of this post I identify with. Not all, to be sure, but most. I am finally back to the point where I am reading stuff that is so challenging I almost don't like it, but I really do, I just need to remember that not all books can be read in under 24 hours, and indeed most should not be. I love knitting too, but I agree. If I had to choose, books would win. I sometimes think I blog more about knitting than about books because blogging about books is almost like blogging about my teeth. Like reading is so much a part of my existence that I don't think I have anything interesting to say about it. From the deepest places in my mind and heart, thank you for this post.

Posted by: Sneaksleep at November 29, 2005 04:05 PM

I did something similar after college, and I confess I still haven't bounced back. :) How messed up is that a literature degree caused us to stop reading literature? Oh well. This comment could get back to the vein about the funnies--I am not always sure where, and more importantly WHY to draw that line.

Anyway, I would say Jamie Hutchinson, but he wouldn't be that pretentious. Bernie Rodgers? Shudder. But how could you have taken a class with Bernie and then MAJORED in it? Ugh.

Posted by: mamacate at November 29, 2005 10:29 PM

Kat, I love this post. It's a rare delight when a person can recognize what works for them, and can express it so well.

I'm not sure I'd be much concerned over exactly why words are so important to you (I say "words" rather than "reading" because I know you explore the art from the side of producing as well as appreciating it). The eternal quest for what makes words so special is itself a part of why you enjoy them.

Half the battle in life is figuring out what's important to you, what makes you tick. You're well on your way. :)

Posted by: Folkcat at November 30, 2005 10:03 PM

Page design by fluffa! Hosted at prettyposies.com. Powered by Movable Type 3.2