Eric Errthum
Due: 9-10-99

The Autobiography of Me

When I was a very young child, my family read to me constantly. So when I became old enough to hop into bed on my own, there was no need for anyone else to read to me my bedtime story, for it was during this time that I especially enjoyed reading. It was during these few minutes or countless hours before sleepiness overcame me that I would allow some of the greatest and some of the most mediocre authors challenge my dreams. And it was because of this broad experience in reading as a youngster, that I narrowed down what I enjoy reading to two extremes: utterly bizarre fiction and hardcore fact.

In my early childhood I read a variety of genres. My mind was like a vacuum, and anything that was put in front of me I would read the following night before going to sleep. But one of my most favorite series of books was the Encyclopedia Brown stories. I looked up to and maybe even wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown. Although he wasn’t the coolest or most athletic kid in their fictional town, he was by far the smartest. I also enjoyed other mystery-oriented books, such as the popular Two-Minute Mysteries. These one or two-paged stories not only entertained but also offered the chance for the reader to flex his or her brain muscles.

In addition to Encyclopedia Brown, I also enjoyed reading from the set of 1982 World Book Encyclopedia my parents had wisely invested in. From what my mother tells me, my interest in the sometimes tiring and monotone text that makes up such a book was fueled by earlier days when she ran out of things to read to me and would just grab an encyclopedia off the shelf to appease me. Nevertheless, those twenty-six volumes of nonfiction became educational entertainment.

However, not all of my reading was rooted in facts and observations. I also enjoyed numerous youthful fantasies. My favorite book until junior high was undoubtedly Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Along with other fiction/fantasy classics for boys my age such as The Swiss Family Robinson and Moonfleet, it allowed me to escape from the boring childhood that was my rural life.

Still, it was not until late in junior high that I would discover the ultimate in fantasy books. For me, Stephen King’s The Gunslinger became the pinnacle of fiction novels. King had departed from his ordinary motif of blood and horror to create a wonderful world full of mysticism, Arthurian romance, and black magic set in a frontier realm at the edge of insanity. Unlike any other book before or after, The Gunslinger utterly consumed me, thus making childish fairy tales out of any other fantasy novel. My heart and soul belonged to The Gunslinger and the other three books to follow in The Dark Tower series to the point that no other fiction could ever take me away from King’s alternate universe.

During my busy years in high school, I often had little time to read. Even my habitual bedtime readings had turned into homework. Constantly being forced to read world-renowned works of literature began to wear on my spirit. I found such classics as Tale of Two Cities and The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn to be long and boring. In my mind, they did not serve either of the two purposes I felt books should; they did not teach me anything in particular, and they surely did not entertain. Now, a lot can be said in justification for such “great” novels, however I often disagreed with every interpretation shoved down my throat and decided that the subject of English Literature left little room for truly individualistic thought.

This led to a desire to separate myself from the “common” reader and find texts that only a few people would understand. One of the outlets I found was in the history and development of physics and mathematics. I began reading books that were far above my level of understanding. Yet, I pieced together what I could and took great pride that I had an inkling of what an elementary particle truly was or how a true mathematical proof really worked. And even though now I look back at myself and see the foolishness, those books started a fire within me that I am still to this day trying to quench.

Another source of odd reading material came to me in a box from my cousin. She had recently graduated from college and gave me some of the books she had read for her literature classes. There’s a kind of irony to it all, for I ended up reading parodies long before reading the original. I must have read Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead twice and only laughed at the surface humor before I finally read Hamlet my senior year. Needless to say, when I reread Stoppard’s play the third time, I nearly died from laughter.

Through it all, though, I still thirsted for interpretation. When a friend of mine handed me Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths and told me she “just couldn’t get it,” I decided to give it a shot. What I found in Borges’s short stories more than moistened my mouth; they flooded me with rich symbolism and curious metaphors. Borges would attack every possible philosophical question in his own unique and genius way. I would read and reread each story, finding and understanding something new every time.

When I graduated from high school and decided to major in math and physics, I realized that few classes would ever require me to read and interpret again. With a sigh of relief, I began reading textbooks in my free time. Odd as it may sound, the straightforward format of the textbook appeals to me. In my spare time I read books with titles such as: An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers, Complex Variables, Finite Mathematics, and Principles of Physics. What most people don’t understand is that, for me, these books require no effort to read. As I read them, I give nothing back. They tell me a fact and I accept it as true. I never question, never speak, only listen.

Of course, at the same time I don’t want to be just some sort of left-brained fact-inhaling machine. And so I continue reading Borges. I now own his Collect Fictions, which contains almost all of his short stories and essays, and his Selected Poems. Between these two anthologies I should have more than I could ever want of symbolistic, metaphorical, and sometimes completely ambiguous text. Yet, it seems any time I’m in a book store, I flock to the shelf where Borges’s books reside, checking to see if there is anything new and interesting that I haven’t seen before.

So as I travel down the road of life, it seems that at this junction the only two genres that please me are as different as North and South. And yet, they compliment each other, essentially attacking similar philosophical ideas. Their diversity and brilliance allow me to approach the world with a sense of educated open-mindedness.