Catherine E. Toth
Confession: I hoard books.
English grammar books, geology texts, dictionaries, travel guides, poetry collections, cookbooks, Oprah's book club selections, the complete works of Shakespeare, and, of course, the entire Harry Potter series.
I can't part with them.
For me, books become the kind of dear friends you wish would visit more often.
I often daydream — usually at my computer on deadline — about crawling into bed to snuggle up with the latest David Sedaris memoir or the fiction issue of The New Yorker.
That can almost reverse the worst day at work, one highlighted by an expected lunch meeting sans lunch, a broken copier machine and a sudden purge of your e-mail that baffles even the techs.
In short, I love reading. And there's nothing — not even a sizable south swell — that can get me to ditch a good book.
So it's upsetting to hear that kids these days — even with the seventh and final Harry Potter book being released later this month — aren't that interested in reading.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 32 percent of American fourth-graders said they never or rarely read for fun outside of school. That's significantly higher than the international average of 18 percent.
Experts say kids are surrounded by more distractions now than ever before.
But it's not like I didn't grow up with distractions, either. Atari, "Thundercats," unlimited phone usage, Tiger Beat magazine, Easy-Bake Ovens, the mall — I got caught up in those, too.
But there was something magical about books.
Sure, TV could transport you to Castle Grayskull or Hazzard County. But with books you could conjure up that world yourself, let your imagination run rampant without consequence.
One day I could be sitting in class with Ramona Quimby, the next I was solving crimes with Encyclopedia Brown.
Books have impacted me more than any '80s sitcom or John Hughes flick.
I slept with the lights on for weeks because of William Sleator's "House of Stairs." I grew to love maps, thanks to Hawkeye Collins and Amy Adams. And I learned about sex and menstrual cycles from Judy Blume's "Forever."
I can't imagine my life — and especially my childhood — without books.
I may face more distractions now as an adult, with 40-hour workweeks, baby showers and piles of laundry.
But that's not going to stop me from picking up a book every night, even if it's some breezy read about a boy wizard with an unusual scar.
Because as an adult, reading is more than just an exercise of my imagination.
It's that much-needed vacation from a life filled with bill payments, meetings and cholesterol tests.
Unless you want to read about that, of course.