Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I remember the exact moment at which I realized I could read.  I have no memory of being taught to read or of learning to read.  It just happened.  The first words I read were "Coca Cola."  I was looking at a classic green bottle of coke, with its distinctive script, and it clicked.  When I looked at a billboard advertisement, I realized that there was a match.  The words on the sign had to also mean coke.

As all my friends know, coke has remained an important element in my existence.  A diet version of the product, purchased from McDonald's, sits on my desk as I write.  As a child, my access to coke was restricted by my parents, but even then I loved it.  The coke bottles were important in our household because it was the War Years, and access to glass bottles was restricted.  My little brother sucked his milk from coke bottles for which some bright entrepreneur had designed rubber nipples.  But I digress.

The night after I discovered "Coca Cola," my father, as was his custom, read to me from a first grade reader (he was a school principal).  As he read, I discovered the word, "Bob" and knew it was the boy in the story.  Before he finished the book, I could recognize two other prominent nouns, "Nancy" (the girl) and "Spot" (their dog).  The next day, I took the book and found those words for myself.  I also discovered my first verb "run."  Bob, Nancy, and Spot did a lot of running.  They also spent much time jumping and throwing.  Several nights later, I told my Daddy I could read the book to him.  I did, and my Mother and Father (both educators) thought I had memorized the book, and tested me on the words out of context and without pictures.  They were certain that they had birthed a genius.

I was an adult and a specialist in communication sciencies, and literacy, before I fully understood the nature of their mistake.  It was, for me, a fortunate error, since the ability to read is highly valued in our culture and family, and often considered by itself as a sign of intelligence.  They thought that being able to read was a wonderful thing, and I continued in that belief.  I could read, so as a child I believed I was "smart."  When I read, I was praised by family and teachers as being a "good girl," so I believed I was good and valuable.

In time I came to understand that reading is a powerful modality for advancement of knowledge, but in and of itself, it is neither "intelligence" nor "goodness." Intelligence is more appropriately defined in terms of the ability to solve problems; and in its most advanced form "genius," by the ability to solve problems by recognizing relationships between apparently unrelated, disparate phenomena.  From this mode of original thinking innovations and discoveries are derived.  As for "goodness," many great readers (and writers) are also worthless human beings (a__ holes in today's terminology); while many wonderful and creative people are dyslexic.

While reading does not define intelligence or morality, it does define a sub-group of our population, to which I belong, and for whom reading is natural, and basic to their very existence.  I call this group "Compulsive Readers."  We constitute a small segment of the human species (probably less than 10%), whose brains are so well-wired to make the leap from speech to the written word, that simple exposure to the written word (in phonetic-based writing systems) will prompt them to read.  They learn to read as naturally, and with the same ease with which most (but not all) children learn to understand and produce spoken language.  While much effort has been spent understanding the small fraction of children who lack the neural wiring for reading (dyslexics), little attention has been devoted to the study of "natural readers" or by my nomenclature, "Compulsive Readers."

ARE YOU A COMPULSIVE READER?  Over the years I have devised a four question test to identify compulsive readers.  Check out your answers to the following questions.

1. Do you remember the process of learning to read?
That is, do you remember going through a process usually over time by which you learned to read, or do you simply remember being able to read?

2.. When you were a child did you read the back of cereal boxes? (Do you still?)
That is, when you were young and sitting at the breakfast table, did you find yourself reading the printed material on the box, even if it is not particularly informative or interesting.  You read it because it was there.  The same thing question can be asked about whether you read the signs on billboards, buses or subways; but the cereal box is a more universal experience.

3. Do you keep reading material in your bathroom?

4. Do you typically carry some form of reading material with you most places you go?  Do you have some form of reading material with you right now?

If you answer NO to question #1, and YES to the others you are clearly a compulsive reader.  Those who give these answers to three of the four questions are probably compulsive readers, with different cultural imperatives. 

BLOGGING AND BLOG READERS -- I suspect that many of those who read blogs, and most of those who write them are "compulsive readers."  My bet is that while we constitute less than 10% of the population, we are approximately 50% of blog readers and writers.  Your feedback might help determine the validity of this hypothesis.



  1. Uh, YES! I AM a compulsive reader! I also remember Dick, Jane, and Spot!
    I learned to read at the same time I learned to read music. My piano teacher lived next door (she was my godmother). Every summer I was enrolled in my library's summer reading program. My mother taught 2nd grade, then went on to get her Reading Specialist credential. I've always read and I have an English minor from UC Riverside (I was a political science/history double major)...
    Cheryl Ann~~ And, yes, my house is FULL of books!

  2. Oh, and YES! I constantly read blogs, but now only the ones I find interesting. I actually had 3 DAILY blogs myself, but now I'm down to two! :-)
    Cheryl Ann