Our Reading Lives

The Rules of Reading…According to My Grandmother, Anyway

Cecilia Lyra |
4 years ago

There is no right or wrong way to do something, except when it comes to books.

I don’t remember the first time I heard my grandmother these words. But she said them often.

Mine is a family of readers. My dad was complicit in my late-night reading. When we travelled, my mom would make sure to visit local libraries and bookshops. My sister and I trade book recommendations several times a month. But for all the reading that gets done in my family, no one’s style is as precise, as particular as my grandmother’s.

Growing up, I regarded my grandma’s bookish do’s and don’ts as commandments—not advice.

  • Treasure your books just as much as you treasure your jewelry.  
  • If you must annotate a book, do so in lightly and in pencil.
  • Keep your bookshelves neat and tidy. Alphabetical order is the only way to go.
  • A woman who reads before going to bed will always have interesting things to dream about.
  • A calculator will provide you with answers. A book will empower you to ask questions. 
  • Lending books is like lending your boyfriend. Don’t lend your boyfriend.
  • The second-best scent in the world is that of a book. The first is the scent of a library.
  • Never trust someone who doesn’t like to read.
  • Books will always allow you to be who you are.

As an adult, I must admit that I don’t follow all her rules. Not only do I annotate my books, I do so in myriad different colors. And while I appreciate a book’s sweet, musky scent, I am a firm believer that the world’s best invention was the ereader. But I will say this: most of her bookish rules are sound. (I even learned one of them the hard way.) Some are downright wise.

And because my grandmother is part witch, a few are even prophetic.

  • You will meet your best friends in a library.
  • A book might break your heart, but it will never leave you.
  • It is impossible to choose a favorite book.

And they’re eerily accurate. I can’t, for the life of me, pick a favorite book. And while I did not meet my best friends in a library, I did meet them at book club—and that’s close enough.

But of all my grandmother’s words of wisdom, this is the most precious one:

  • You will never regret a single moment you spend reading.

At ninety-two, my grandma repeats this one quite often. And these words bring me a great deal of comfort. After all, I spend so much time curled up with a book. It’s good to know that when I, too, am in my nineties I will look back at these moments as time well spent.