A View from the Stacks: Seven Rules of Reading

Mesa Public Library Head of Circulation

One of the fun parts of working in a library is that we get to interact with books and people every day. Here are seven rules regarding books and reading that I have learned from my years in libraries.

Reader at Mesa Public Library. Photo by Kate Garduño

1. There’s no reason a perfectly brilliant person shouldn’t read a perfectly stupid book.

Avid readers read books of all flavors. Filet mignon is great, but sometimes what you really want is a green chile cheeseburger. Display with pride those dog-eared copies of Nabokov’s Pale Fire and McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, dear reader, but don’t forget that old paperback of Stephen King’s. It’s stuffed under your bed because it deserves love, too. (On second thought, the idea of that book lurking under your bed is more than a little terrifying. You should probably put it elsewhere.)

2. The children’s section is a great place for grown-ups to brush up on a complex topic.

Kid’s books cover all kinds of topics in short chapters and easy to understand language. The history of Rome? How to sail? Rosa Parks? It’s all there. With pictures.

3.   Reading is not doing nothing.

As a brilliant library staff member says, reading is not doing nothing. Yes, you could be Swimming to Antarctica or discovering The Lost City of Z, but I’m guessing even Lynne Cox and Percy Fawcett enjoy a good book now and again.

4.   If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

It might be a literary classic. It may have changed others’ lives. But your days are numbered. I don’t mean in an Jeff-Long’s The Descent, exploring-labyrinthine-caves-inhabited-by-demons, sort of way. I mean don’t waste your precious reading time slogging through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest if you really want to read about how Henry Ford tried to recreate an old-timey American town in the Brazilian jungle. (If so, read Fordlandia by Greg Grandin.) Give it a chance, and if it doesn’t grab you, quickly move on. Like a demon zombie.

5.   Well, on second thought, maybe you should read it …

Ok, so maybe ignore Rule Number Two sometimes. Like being stuck in an elevator with a stranger who looks like a serial killer, you just might end up happy you were forced to delve into the depths of something you’d otherwise avoid. (Well, unless they are in fact a serial killer.) Until about 100 pages in, I thought John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meanie was just what I needed to get to sleep on a friend’s couch. Slowly, though, that book grew on me and I ended up weeping shamelessly at the end, which, as readers similar to me would know, means I liked it. (Related tip: Don’t ride malfunctioning elevators with someone you think is a serial killer.)

6.   You can learn anything from books.

Seriously. Need to teach five-year-olds string games by tomorrow? No problem. Need to lay flagstone? Raise a baby? Breed meat goats? You can find helpful information about all these topics in a book. Well, not all in one single book. But you can find helpful, portable books with virtually any information you need. And, unlike information on the Internet, you can be reasonably confident that the information wasn’t written last night by the creepy guy who’s always riding that rickety elevator.

7.   Ignore all these rules.

Hopefully this one’s obvious. It’s fun and good to hear what others think, but ultimately reading is what you do to have fun and to learn. Make your own rules or, maybe, just read.


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