Why I Read

September 18, 2016 — Tom Bancroft


I have never thought of reading as a hobby. When I was thinking of writing something on a hobby, I thought –I don’t hunt or fish, I don’t play golf, I don’t collect stamps- maybe I don’t have any hobbies. It was only when I thought about what it is that I spend all my time on that it dawned on me that reading must be my hobby.

I read at least an hour a day, or about a book a week, and have done for more than fifty years. I read everything- fiction and literature, poetry, mysteries, sci-fi, and science, and biography and history. I usually read 2 or 3 books at a time. Right now, I’m reading a history of the Reformation (the 500th anniversary of the reformation comes next year, at which point I should be finished this 900 page book about it) as well as a novel  by William Boyd, and a book called How to Listen To Jazz.

As I thought more about my reading, the extent of it became more clear to me. When my children were young, I could no longer afford to buy all that I wanted to read. I had to support my habit- I became a dealer. I joined the Maine Antiquarian Bookseller’s Assoc., and since I had a full-time job, advertised Bancroft’s Books as being open “By chance or Appt. “ My collection –I notice now that I never called it my inventory-( I should have been tipped then that this was a hobby, not a business) swelled to close to 10,000 books.  As I became more well-known, I was offered estates. I bought an estate of a recently deceased psychiatrist who died in his 90’s. He had medical and psychiatric books –in german-which believe it or not, I did quite well with. But his son, who was conducting this business, told me that I would have to take the magazines as well. “What magazines? “I asked. I was shown a whole room of dusty Life magazines Saturday Evening Posts, and National Geographics. These all came out weekly, and he had kept every single one, they came up to my chest. I reluctantly agreed to haul them all off. As it turned out, there were 65 Norman Rockwell Sat. Eve. Post covers, which were worth much more than I had paid for the entire estate. Do not assume from this that I was a shrewd businessman. I never did more than break even as a bookseller, for as proficient as I was at selling, I was better at buying. I have collected books all my life, and looking at it critically, I’m a completest. I will discover an author I like, and try to find every book that author ever wrote. I read the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope, then discovered that his novels, all 47 of them had been issued as a set in fine boxed editions. There’s still 8 of them I haven’t found yet, but it’s a matter of time.

I have a book with me at all times, whether I’m visiting, traveling, or in the doctor’s or dentist’s office. I become very anxious lest I’m somehow caught without something to read. I look for more opportunities to read. I discovered audiobooks quite some time ago, so that I don’t have any downtime when I’m driving. Almost every trip that Nancy and I take that’s longer than an hour, we bring a mutually agreed upon talking book.

I write down quotes from whatever I’m reading that is meaningful to me for any reason-a good metaphor, sound advice or just funny. I look back at these from time to time- there’s a half-dozen notebooks now. Here’s a few:

“If the books we read reflect the person we are, the books we hope to read might just be who we aspire to be.” – Jess Walter, Intro. To Ten Years In A Tub, Nick Hornby


“It was a face that had known suffering, and seemed to be renewing the acquaintance.”- Ross MacDonald, The Zebra-Striped Hearse


“I have never known a man to admit that he was either rich or asleep: perhaps the poor man and the wakeful man have some great moral advantage.” – Patrick O’Brien, Master And  Commander

As I read back over this, I discover that I didn’t think of reading as a hobby, because it has been so much more than that-  I’m not sure, given the way I was raised, if I ever would have been able to identify or name an emotion. No one taught me how to express love, for instance, to another person. I was not shown how to grow through adolescence, with all that entails, how to become a man, how to develop an appropriate relationship. I literally learned all those things through reading about them. Is reading a hobby? That’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s been my saving grace, my life.