I’m a reader. That’s answer I give to this question, which I get at shows all the time. Usually after an excessively rambling account of the way Catholic and West African beliefs combined in diaspora religions, the history of the term “burking”, popularity of postmortem photography in the Victorian era, or the feeding habits of corvids and their relation to mythological traditions in northern Europe. Or, “I’m a nerd”. This is very true. When other kids had video games, I had a library card. Well, I had video games too, but after I won Contra I lost interest in the whole thing and never picked up a console again. My very first book was called “Misty and Me”, a feel good little bit of fiction geared towards that age group in between Cat in the Hat and Miss Peregrine, about a girl and her puppy. And I picked it out at the book store at the age of six, after convincing my dad that I was ready for a “real book” as I called it. That is, one without pictures and huge type. Dad didn’t believe me, which, fair enough considering my age, and asked for a book report when I was done. Then I started making my way through Nancy Drew, and they never argued with me about my reading habits after that. I think they were disappointed that I didn’t turn out to be some genius prodigy, but I guess that’s a parent’s lot in life sometimes.
Since Misty broke the seal, I’ve been – consuming, is really the appropriate word to describe it – literature at a high rate. I never don’t have a book. If I can’t find a good book I will read a crappy one, but I have to be reading. SF/fantasy, biography, comic books, poetry, history, biology, anthropology, religion, memoir, physics, criminology, field and survival guides, sociology, chemistry, fiction, huge ass picture books of art, entomology, big, sexy word combinations with hyphens like socio-biology and ethno-botany. There isn’t anything I won’t read. If it’s crap and I have options, I won’t finish it, but that’s about the only deal breaker. Genre doesn’t matter a bit, so long as the writing is tasty or the subject so interesting the writing isn’t an issue.
I find “autodidact” to be a clumsy and ugly word, but it’s what I have been since the alphabet began to make sense to me, and I never looked back. College was a nightmare of intellectually stifling maze running for this rat accustomed to following her nose over hill and deep into thickets of connected subject matter, wherever the path, beaten or otherwise, seemed to most interestingly lead. The problem with a system like the educational one for a person like me, is that they want your brains to function on a track, like a well managed freight train, while mine is…not. It’s like a thing that wanders around quite a bit. Insert preferred metaphor here. A brook, butterfly, squirrel, jabberwocky, nargle. Whatever makes you happy. That’s my brain. A wander-y thing that is very VERY hungry and has to eat information constantly to stay content. I have in my bookshelf subjects as diverse as the history of table salt and its effects on the development of cross continental trade routes and human culture, and a boxed set of Bunnicula books. Does this make me a better artist? I dunno, but it does make me a hoot (or a nightmare, depending on the sorts of guests you have and how easily they are made uncomfortable by discussions revolving around the finer points of dermestid beetle feeding habits) at dinner parties and an epic pain in the ass in an argument. It makes me take a very macro view of human culture in my time and place. A mixed blessing, that I won’t wander into here because time management. I’ve been called smart, but I don’t know that I’m smart, or just have a super absorbent brain. Like a Sham-Wow. Things that stimulate me lodge in my skull and become part of my world. My brain is a nomad before colonialism threw arbitrary borders on the map. It goes everywhere. It sees all the things. And it gets nutso if it has to stay still, overgrazing the same territory and contributing to desertification. Alright, maybe I took that particular metaphor further than makes sense, but you get my drift.
So next time you’re in my booth and somehow the conversation turns to coming of age ceremonies in Pacific islands tribes or why fortune cookies are so ubiquitous, and you’re all, “How the hell did we get HERE?”, now you know.