Railroad Reading


When I was 12 years old, a newspaper reporter stopped me on the railroad tracks, asking to take my picture. I had been walking home from school, book in hand as per usual, reading while I walked.

“Just act natural. Act like you’re reading and pretend I’m not here.”

I walked back across the tracks and took a few steps forward, pretending to read, as he snapped a few photos. “Okay, this is great. Now just write your name and age here. And what book are you reading?”

I bit my lip, a little bit nervous to share the title, Ramona Forever, by Beverly Clearly. If my picture actually went into the local newspaper, and my peers (who already teased me, calling me names like geek, nerd, fag, and sissy), the teasing might get worse. I mean, there was a picture of a girl twirling in a skirt on the front. I reluctantly wrote it down for the reporter and he thanks me, and sure enough, the picture did go in the paper, and, true to form, I was teased for it. But over the next year, my voice started to change and I had a terrible case of acne, and the kids had something else to tease me about.

I look back at this photo at the age of 38, and I realize I haven’t changed one bit. I’ve always enjoyed my own world at my own pace. I thought of this photo just a few weeks ago when, during a trip to Missoula, Montana, I took a long walk one morning along the railroad tracks, reading my latest biography from the library. A woman had smiled at me from a bench, telling me it was nice to see someone reading.

I’ve always loved reading, but I’m not a lay back in bed kind of reader, that just makes me sleepy. I prefer to read while I’m doing something. Reading while walking, of course, takes an extra sense of awareness of surroundings, watching where my feet land, who might be nearby, and where traffic and dogs could be.

I read to reward myself, in between clients at work or in between sets at the gym. I read while I wash dishes, propping the book up above the counter where it won’t get wet. I read in the bathtub and, bizarrely, I read at the start of my shower, as the water cascades down my back and I can hold the book out of reach. I reach while I use the bathroom. I often read a page on the walk from my car to my office, or while walking down the steps to my front door. I read while I eat. I get most of my reading done while doing cardio at the gym.

Books have always represented escape to me. I love getting lost in history, in fact, or in fiction, and letting my mind fill with new information. The printed page means freedom, intellect, stimulation, and knowledge. I can garner things from even the most mundane.

As a child, I often read books that made me laugh. As a teenager, I read fantasy novels, and Mormon doctrinal books. As a college student, I read texts for my classes, with fiction books on the side. As an adult, I read biographies and tomes of history, constantly expanding my horizons of the human world and human history. And I’ve read comic books for decades, starting every morning now with comics and coffee, reading about characters that I’ve loved for more than 20 years now.

And so my 38 year old self looks back on myself not with shame and embarrassment, but with a smile. I like a kid that likes to read, especially when that kid is me.

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