Commentary – Alison Vicrobeck, For the Love of Books
Host Intro: People often say they like to read, but if you ask them to name the past few books they’ve finished, they’re usually less quick to answer. Commentator Alison Vicrobeck, on the other hand? She’d give you a long list of books. With her stats.
One of my earliest memories is from when I was 5. It was the summer before I started school, and my dad called me into the dining room. He said: “I’m going to teach you to read.” I thought, “what’s the point? I’ll learn it in school in a few weeks”. But he insisted. He came from a long line of educators and he wanted me to be able to read before everyone else. I think that competitive spirit defines my reading today.
Almost from that summer, I took reading very seriously. I was the first in my class to know how to read, despite being the youngest. Whenever the teacher would ask someone to read aloud, I ALwAYS volunteered. class reading competitions? Won ‘em. Most books checked out of the library? That was me, too. [I even got to read “big kid” books first.]
For me, reading wasn’t just something I did to show off… Books were the one constant thing in my life. I’m an only child and my parents are separated – my mom lived in Toronto and my dad in French Caribbean. And I used to spend one year in one place, the next year in the other. That meant every year, I had to make new friends who spoke a different language, listened to different music, ate different food.
But stories and characters, those were things I knew, things I was familiar with. In a way, they were home. Because whether you call it Cinderella, Cendrillon or Cenicienta, it’s still the same story of a girl who loses her glass slipper at the ball. I lived in a world of books, where the characters were my friends, the adventures they lived were my own.
By the time I was nine or ten, I was reading about 20 books a month – and I know that because I was tracking them ALL. And not just casually tracking – I wrote down every book and details – like how long it took me to read, whether I liked it and which language it was in. I even color coded and charted it. LIke an auditor, I’d study why some months I read more or less than others. And by the time I was 11, I’d started to teach myself how to speed read just to make sure I could read bigger and bigger books before the month’s end.
Reading was my sport and I was going all-out. But the person competing with was me. Being the best reader was who I was.
But then, in 2011, I started University. And, for the first time, I didn’t complete my chart. The numbers stop halfway through the year… it looks like I stopped counting. But the truth is much worse… I stopped reading… at least for pleasure. The reading I did then – Plato, Machiavelli, Locke Rousseau – I read it, I understood it. Problem was, it wasn’t for me, it was for the teacher, and it don’t go on my list.
If I wasn’t the girl who reads books – even if just to my own count -, then who was I?
But then – when I was home with my dad in Martinque – my dad said let’s go camping on our favorite beach – get away from it all. No internet. No phone. nothing to do. So I cracked open one of my all-time favorite books, L’Etranger (or The Stranger) by Albert Camus (pronounce in English). I read it in one sitting. And just like that, I was hooked on reading again.
I read four novels that month. I had found myself again. Sure – I’d get busy with assigned reading in school, and my charts would suffer, but I learned another lesson – the books are still there for me. I go through longer periods now when I can’t read for pleasure – but I’m confident I’ll get back to it as soon possible. I carry a book with me everywhere I go, and when I finish it, of course, it gets charted.
Alison Vicrobeck is totally willing to show you her book charts, if you show her yours first…