Reading for sheer pleasure

Omaha World-Herald

By Emily Babay

At a pace of five or six titles a week, Lyla Thompson is steadily reading the books in her collection.

All 6,000 of them.

The Omaha woman is a lifelong reader and book collector. Since she retired in 1999, Thompson, 69, has pursued her passion with new enthusiasm; her reading hours resemble a full-time job.

Floor-to-ceiling bookcases fill her living room and basement. Other books are stacked in boxes. Thompson’s collection ranges from her mother’s first-edition Tarzan stories to the latest Dean Koontz suspense titles.

Her schedule is rigorous.

Thompson said she begins reading by 10 each morning. She reads until 4 p.m., then takes a break to watch television and eat dinner.

By 7 p.m., she’s back to the books. Her day ends about 10 p.m.

Thompson had long intended to spend the free time of her retirement years reading, but that desire is a rarity.

In 2008, 50.2 percent of U.S. adults said they had read at least one novel, play, short story or poem in the past year, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thompson, who especially likes mystery stories and history books, said her post-retirement plans were clear during her 20-year career with the Internal Revenue Service.

“I knew my life would revolve around books,” she said.

Even as a young girl, she loved reading and owning books, said Thompson, who grew up in Omaha.

As a child, she worked for her uncle in Scotia, Neb., selling ice. She earned a quarter a day and saved up to buy Nancy Drew mystery books.

During her freshman year at Omaha Central High School, she suffered a concussion playing tennis. Doctors told Thompson to rest in bed, but she hid books under her mattress to read when she was alone.

“They couldn’t tell me not to read,” she said.

Thompson can’t remember a time when she did not know how to read.

She sees herself in her granddaughter Victoria Thompson, 7, who can easily read chapter books intended for kids ages 7 to 10.

Reading came naturally to Victoria, Thompson said.

“That must have been what it was to me,” she said.

But she didn’t always have the time to read at the pace she does now.

She spent years balancing school and work, eventually becoming a division chief at the IRS. She attended night school and earned a degree in accounting from Maryville University in St. Louis.

The busy schedule limited Thompson (who is divorced and has two children) to reading one book every few weeks.

Her days are still full, but Thompson is embracing her now-rapid reading pace.

“I had had enough number crunching,” she said.

Her book collection is still growing. Thompson joins “book-of-the-month” clubs to purchase titles at cheap prices. She also makes frequent trips to Pageturners, a used bookstore at 50th and Dodge Streets.

There, Thompson said, she usually leaves with eight to 10 books filling her canvas bag emblazoned with the phrase “There’s no such thing as too many books.”

Though Pageturners also buys back old books, Thompson doesn’t part with hers. She buys them, and keeps them, because she simply likes to own books.

When Thompson’s family moved to a new home in Omaha during the summer between her eighth- and ninth-grade years, she was forced to leave her bookcases behind.

“I think that’s the last time anybody got a book from me,” she said.

She does, however, lend works to friends and family.

“Everyone comes to her,” said Craig Thompson, her son. He said he doesn’t read much, but his mother will provide any books requested by him, Victoria or Victoria’s sister, Caitlyn, 6.

Victoria and Caitlyn have bookcases filled with titles from their grandmother.

“When they outgrow them, she’ll take those out and put others in,” Craig Thompson said.

Books — for herself and for others — are at the top of his mother’s shopping list.

“I don’t care about getting another piece of clothing in my life,” Lyla Thompson said.

She has a stack of recent arrivals from a book order. Dean Koontz’s “Relentless” will be her next title.

When she’s done, three more books — Carlene Thompson’s “You Can Run” and two Mary Jane Clark mysteries — are waiting for her on a living room coffee table.

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