A Nobel Prize for reading? Why not?
The Swedes give out Nobel Prizes for all kinds of things, including literature, but after reading yesterday’s BBC News story about Louise Brown, I’m wondering if maybe they should add a category for reading. Brown is the 91-year-old Scottish lady who claims to have read 25,000 books, all from one local library or another, since 1946. She’s borrowed a minimum of six books a week over that period, and in recent times has increased her count to 12 weekly titles.
Let’s assume the story is accurate — we can trust the BBC, right? Let’s also assume Brown is actually reading 12 books a week, and not taking them home and using them as coasters. I’ve known some dedicated readers in my life, but I doubt if any can rival Brown.
When I was a boy, in the first blush of reading love, I sat down one day and performed a rough calculation of how many books I’d be able to read in my lifetime. I was dismayed by the figure. At the time I was reading one book a week — then, as now, I read slowly — I figured I could take in somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 books ere my three score and ten were up. I was depressed for a week.
I was the kind of kid who always had a paperback in the back pocket of his jeans. I really did sit in class with a library book hidden in my text book, blissfully ignoring the teacher. My elementary school librarian, unable to conceive a 10-year-old boy could love books so much, chased me out of her domain one day after implying I had a crush on her. While working as a reporter for the Palm Beach Post in the early 1980s, I read Vanity Fair and Great Expectations on my lunch hour in a pleasant neighborhood park in the El Cid neighborhood of West Palm Beach.
I would have thought my reading devotion second to none. Yet I’ll never come close to Brown’s total. I’ve been distracted by making a living, raising children, spending time with family and friends — and I sheepishly confess to watching television and surfing the Internet. Reading remains my dearest pleasure, but not my only one. To read as Brown reads, I would have to live a monastic existence, and I’m not willing.
Still, at a time when traditional pleasure reading is under ever more challenge from the increasing pace of life and the proliferation of new forms of information and entertainment, Brown’s dedication and achievement deserve more recognition than a pat on the head from her local librarian and a small notice by the BBC.
I’m serious about that Nobel Prize.