March 05


The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Confessions of a Reluctant Reader

Dear Nerdy Book Club Nerds,


I begin my guest blog with a confession.  I am an imposter. I am not worthy.  On the Nerd-o-meter scale, I’d rank myself at about a “5.” And in the nerdy world of nerd-dom, a “5” doesn’t even really count.


I do exhibit nerd-like behaviors of course. I read more than most. Though certainly not more than most of you. I have read a bazillion children’s picture books and YA novels, out loud no less. But what parent of three children hasn’t? And I’ve read Keats, Byron, Shelley, Woolf, James, Chopin, Faulkner, Hemingway, and all three Brontë sisters. But that was to earn a graduate degree. I have memorized nearly a thousand poems. But as a professional performance poet of thirty years, I’ve literally been paid to do that.


As a true Reader (with a capital “R”) I am not on par with those of you living in the Nerd-o-Sphere. When given the choice I will usually pick up a guitar rather than a book. Or go for a hike. Or take a nap. Or make a turkey sandwich. Or get a load of laundry done. (I actually like doing laundry—weird. I’m actually at The Dutch Girl Laundromat as I type this!)


When I was a kid I was “a reluctant reader,” although I’m not sure the term existed at the time. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn to comic books, and why I was drawn to the succinct miraculous efficiency of poetry.  I’ve been at it, now, for 56 years, and I’m still the same reluctant reader. I leave it up to Carl Jung to figure out how a reluctant reader can eventually come to be a professional writer of books.


While I may be a reluctant reader, I am not a lazy reader. I read slowly. Carefully. And deeply.


When I sit down to read, I am on a mission. When I open a book I can almost hear strands of Gustav Mahler swelling in the background. I always have a pen in my hand (or tucked behind my right ear) at the ready. I prefer to buy the books I read because I am a compulsive marginaliac. I don’t believe the word marginaliac existed until just now, but it means one who interacts with a book through copious marginal commentary. A true marginaliac uses pen, never pencil. Eww.



For example, check out this photo of page 260 from my copy of Volume One of Dale Morgan’s seminal work, Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California Oregon Trail (University of Nebraska Press, 1963). I was researching pioneer travel for my upcoming epic historical novel about The Donner Party. I’ve written “Voc” to indicate an interesting use of vocabulary that I might incorporate into future dialogue.  “BM” denotes something that might go well in the book’s “Back Matter.” And you’ll see a little picture of a light-bulb, drawn to indicate an idea for some future scene. My marginalia is an extensive and confusing short-hand system of symbols that even I find difficult to decipher.


But it is no surprise that I interact with reading through writing.  In my last Nerdy Book Club post I told ya’ll the true story (complete with photographs) of my bizarre hypergraphic episodes that left the bedroom walls of my youth covered with an unrelenting torrent of words. And I told you how I was happy to discover that reading was really just writing in reverse.


In my adulthood reading is a tool for research and a method of meditation. It focuses my mind and it pacifies the fidgety monkey that lives in my head. Reading helps me to order my world. To make sense of what I see and what I feel. I often urge young writers to keep a journal, because I truly believe that, by doing so, we write ourselves into existence.  Likewise I believe we read ourselves into existence?



My latest book, The Day the Universe Exploded My Head is based on the true fact that my mind is in constant wonder at the realizations awaiting us in space. I wrote Exploded Head so reluctant readers can feel that wonder too. This book was a pure pleasure to write. I wrote these poems as I sat in my private library (I call it The Imaginarium) facing books floor to ceiling. This is my favorite way to write. The books have a presence, like religious relics. They encourage me. My writing “desk” was a simple old wooden folding card table from the 1950s.



After years of writing complex historical verse novels, it has been a delight to return to the world of short, rhyming, rhythmical, romping poems. Perfect reading for a reluctant reader  like me. I’ve never been happier.  Eventually I will tackle another serious complex narrative epic. But for now I shall write these fun-filled poems. And I will embrace my inner reluctant reader.  I will walk the halls of Nerd Camp, proudly. Content as a stray cat at the Westminster Kennel Club.


Am I alone? Are there Nerds among you, reading this now, who are recovering (or practicing) “reluctants” like me? Make yourselves known in the comments below! Let us give our secret signal when we meet. Let us scan the nighttime sky for our own dimly lit constellation. Let us share our favorite reluctant reads. And next time we hear some kid say off-handedly, “Oh, I’m not really much of a reader.” We can answer, proudly, “I know what you mean, kid. Do I have the perfect book for YOU!”


Metaphors be with you,

Allan Wolf


Allan wolf

Author of The Watch That Ends the Night, Zane’s Trace, New Found Land, Who Killed Christopher Goodman?, The Blood-Hungry Spleen, and others, Allan Wolf is a two time winner of the North Carolina YA Book Award, and recipient of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award from Bank Street College. His YA verse novels and children’s books, showcase the marriage of history and poetry. Wolf travels the country presenting author visits and poetry shows for all ages. His latest book of poems is The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Poems to Take You Into Space and Back Again, illustrated by Anna Raff (Candlewick Press).  You can see video of Allan in action at: