Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Have You Read the Dictionary?

"She'd read the dictionary all the way through. No one told her that you weren't supposed to."
-- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

When I was young, I read anything that I could get my hands on. I read my books over and over again. I was at our public library multiple times per week. I couldn't wait for my few magazine subscriptions to arrive in the mail -- the day that American Girl magazine arrived, it was like a little bit of Christmas had come to my mailbox. I read the back of the cereal box over breakfast and, when I was finished with that, moved on to the nutritional information.

I craved words.

This craving, this need to read, was so powerful that I read some unusual things. I read all the articles in the TV Guide each Thursday, the day it arrived in the mail. I scoured catalogs for interesting product descriptions. At nine years old, I was reading all of my mother's magazines: National Geographic, People, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, Family Circle, US News and World Report. I didn't understand all of what I was reading, but that didn't matter to me. I even paged through PC World now and again, back in the days when DOS was still a viable operating system and Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet.

And yes, I even read the dictionary.

No matter how much I read, it was never enough. To me, words were like water to a man dying of thirst. I still feel that way. I need to read. And while I don't obsessively read every bit of print that comes into the house anymore, a book (or two, or three) is never too far from my hands.

What about you? Were you an insatiable reader as a child? Did you find yourself reading anything odd, just to satisfy a hunger for words?


  1. I LOVE this post! My sister is 3 years older than me and I would always read all of her books for school. One of my earliest memories of school is getting in trouble in the reading circle for correcting someone else. He was taking to long to figure out the word and I was ready to move on!

  2. I loved reading the dictionary as a kid. I still love looking up words I don't understand.

  3. Ruth - are you sure we weren't separated at birth?! I read cereal boxes, the first aid book in the the bathroom, the ingredient labels on foods, the warning label on the hair dryer (DO NOT USE while in the bathtub!), and so on.

  4. Bermuda Onion, I remember feeling like that a lot in reading and English classes. I was really happy when my mom decided to home-school me and I could go at my own pace. No more sitting in class thinking, "I know this already, can't you teach me something a little more difficult?"

    Serena, I do that as well. I love learning new words!

    Heather J., I forgot about warning labels! Man, I loved those things. I still enjoy reading them. I'm really into Doctor Who and (geek alert) I have a few of the Doctor Who action figures that I imported from the UK. The warning labels on those are so different from the ones on toys in America. They're so...polite and almost eloquent.

  5. I admit to skimming the dictionary, but there wasn't enough storyline for me to actually read it :-). I also read TV Guide cover-to-cover, up until a few years ago. One of my problems with magazines is that I feel like I'm supposed to read everything in them, even if I'm not all that interested, so I try not to read many magazines.

    I was a nearly insatiable reader. I think I still am; I just read less on a printed page, and more on a computer screen, these days.

  6. I wish I had been a a reader when I was young, but I didn't start loving to read until I was married with 3 children in tow. Now I can't go a day without reading.

  7. I was exactly the same, and I still am. If there are words, I will read them. If there is only an instruction manual lying around, I'll read that, and if there are instructions in other languages, I'll try and work out what they mean. If something is in its packaging or has words, I've probably read them a thousand times. I'm just drawn to words like nothing else.

    And I too loved the American Girl magazine!

  8. I was very nearly the same, both my parents were huge readers and from an early age I couldn't get enough. Even today I could tell you what is written on every bottle of shampoo, dishsoap and ketchup in our home. Sometimes my inability to ignore words does become annoying though:)

  9. Yep, I am another one that will read anything with words on it. And I do admit having sat down and paged through a dictionary from time to time in the past. There are just so many words that are trapped in there, rarely to be used. They need to be set free!!
    Except that I can't remember how to spell them...

    BTW Ruth, I posted about another lighthouse on my Grand Lighthouse Tour on my blog. Just because I know you like lighthouses.

    OK...that is a prevarication. Not about the post, but the reason. ;-)

  10. I was and still am an insatiable reader. I'd rather read a book than do most anything.

    When I was in the 7th grade, we were supposed to read a "classic". My teacher called my mom and said I was being "difficult". I wasn't being difficult, I'd already read every book she suggested. My mom and I finally decided that I would read, "Gone with the Wind". My teacher wasn't happy, but agreed and said that I only needed to read the first 300 pages, because most of the other kids' books were about that long. I finished the whole thing before any of them finished theirs!

  11. I never read as a child. But I am getting my fill of children's book now. I just read Wizard of Oz about a year back (I am 26). But I don't regret it. Because thats the reason I still love reading children's books, all the more genres to read :)

    Nice post btw.

  12. What a wonderful post! I, too, remember reading the TV Guide. I also read the shampoo bottles (front and back) while in the shower.

  13. wow this is probably one of my favorite blogs ive read. I, also, used to read everything, well almost. I would read the backs of cereal boxes and nutrition information all the time. I never did read the dictionary, though. I'd also read different manuals and info books i'd find lying around the house. However, I didn't realize how much i would love to read books until 7th grade.

  14. Great post! I too am a voracious reader. The only day I ever cut school I walked all the way across town to the public library and spent the day there. Sheer heaven to me at the time. When my mom and dad found out, they didn't even punish me. Haha!