Anyone who knows me even a little is aware that I’m a devoted bookworm. I think nothing of finishing a book in one day—sometimes one sitting, depending on how engrossing it is—and those who follow me on social media are privy to my prolific reviewing habits on Goodreads. I spend much of my time in class, studying, socializing, and reading material not generally considered fun (though I’ve been known to take pleasure in reading my sociology textbook now and then), but I have always found time for leisure reading. I have sometimes been too busy to sleep; too tired to study; too desolate to go out. I don’t think I’ve ever been too anything to read. Reading is by turns a learning experience, an exploration of human nature, and an escape when things get too difficult. In short, I read for all the reasons anyone else reads.
I’ve been teased about the sheer volume of books I get through; I’ve had a friend ask, without a trace of irony, how many books I read “today” (it wasn’t even noon at the time). I know many other people who read at least as much as I do, but I admit that it’s not just about the books. Until I was given unfettered access to the internet at age fifteen, books were a luxury. Braille was hard to come by; most of the books I read in school were lent to me by an Albertan organization dedicated mostly to producing textbooks. However, they did boast an impressive collection of leisure reading, particularly classics. I devoured so many books as a student that by the time I was fourteen, I’d exhausted more or less every book they offered. I then signed up for the CNIB library, which sustained me until I gained better access to Ebooks. Even then, titles took months to arrive after they’d been ordered, and while the library did send me random books suited to my age group, they were often falling apart at the seams, badly squashed, or covered in suspicious substances resembling, at least in one case, strawberry jam.
Even when I did have books to read, they were always limited. I had to choose from a select few, and I had to return them as quickly as possible so that I could receive more. I remember slogging laboriously through books I absolutely hated (If you ask my former EA, she’ll remember how much I complained while reading “Huckleberry Finn”) because I didn’t have much choice. When your selection of literature is scant, you can’t get too picky about what you read.
Forget about buying my own books: braille books were so rare and so costly that when I won my first ever book in a draw, I kept it long after I’d wrung any enjoyment from it. I still have it to this day, and I’m not sure I could just hand it off to someone else. You never forget your first braille book.
It was the same with audio books: while I was growing up, audio books were not nearly as prevalent as they are now. They were expensive, and thus were quite rare. I remember literally shrieking with delight each Christmas when my parents would present me with the newest Harry Potter book, or the next volume of Paolini’s Inheritance Series. Now and then, people would find audio books at garage sales or in bargain bins and I’d be treated to some of the most random selections you can think of. When I was nine, someone gave me “The Green Mile”, obviously not thinking this through. My mom happened to listen in while I was reading one night and just about lost her mind when I asked, with total innocence, what a “faggot” was. As a kid, I was introduced to the autobiography of Mia Farrow (complete with the famous sex scandal involving Woody Allen), Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flat”, and Grisham’s “The Client” … these were just a few of the completely inappropriate, yet no less enjoyable, reads I was exposed to via audio. I had an interesting time back then, I can tell you.
When my reading world expanded and I suddenly had almost every book in existence at my fingertips, I hardly knew what to do with myself. I began binge reading—grabbing every mildly interesting book I could find and ravenously searching for more. One of my most persistent fears, all throughout my life, was running out of reading material. Gone are the days when I had to read the Old Testament because it was summer vacation and I didn’t have any books to read. Gone are the days when I’d have to struggle through Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim” even though I despised every page. Now, I can read what I want to, without fear of consuming too much material too quickly. Now, I don’t have to ration my books, because there will always be another one waiting for me.
This is the kind of freedom most sighted readers have enjoyed all their lives. The public library stocked nearly every book they’d ever want to read, and they always had access to newspapers and magazines. There was no need to read 400 pages of something they hated just because books were too scarce. The great thing is that blind kids of the future will not have to go through what I and many other blind people did. They will have access to digitized braille (as well as actual books, of course) and plain text ebooks. They will be able to read the “back cover” and decide which books interest them. They will not have to wonder where their next book is coming from. Nearly every bit of reading material—whether on paper or on the web—will be accessible to them.
And, just like sighted people, they won’t have any idea how lucky they are.
You see, it’s not just about the books. It’s not about reading so much that people will take notice and praise (or ridicule) me. It’s about freedom of choice, and equal access, and autonomy. It’s about spending my time the way I want to, without worrying about having to ration my enjoyment.
So, fellow blind binge readers, enjoy your freedom. Enjoy the fact that in this, at least, equal access is yours. And if you think you might read just a little too often sometimes? If you worry that you hoard books? If you think you’re silly for still fearing that you’ll run out sometime, even when you know better? Give yourself a break. Old habits die hard. It’s worth remembering where they came from.