Why Reading Kept Me Out Of Jail


I wasn’t a bad kid growing up,  I just liked to steal things — vodka, cigars, communion wine — and set things on fire.  Once or twice I used profanity in the presence of a nun.  But I only had my rights read to me once and even then the cop looked pretty bored about it.

When my parents took me to see the shrink, some white-bearded guy whose last name was a season, the only thing I could say to him was: I feel less violent when I’m reading and writing.  It was true.  (Bullshit, his ingratiating eyes seemed to suggest.)

All my insecurities and hang-ups through the years have been graciously kept in line by the privileges bestowed by books. Thanks to the hallucinatory power of words, demons can be ridden in the safety of one’s own study, instead of in a playground at midnight with kerosene, Wild Turkey and ludes. Thanks to those librarians who tricked me into reading contests over the summer, I never fell in with the suburban skinhead car thief Scotch Guard-sniffing crowd.

And now it turns out that reading might actually qualify as just punishment for wayward youths.

And honestly it was probably thanks to being forced to read Naked Lunch at a young age that I was never tempted to do heroin.

Now I quite happily punish myself with reading, instead of dropping sixty dollars a night at all the bars that suddenly surround me in my new neighborhood.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →