Talking Books With a 96-Year-Old Reader: A Conversation with Roy Williams

Dive into this interview with nonagenarian Roy Williams, who’s enjoyed a vibrant reading life for almost a hundred years now!

Bronze whale and squirrel figurines sitting on a stack of old books.

One of the most pleasant and enriching things about writing Tea and Ink Society has been the opportunity to virtually meet readers from all around the world, people at all different stages of life and with a smorgasbord of reading tastes.

Roy Williams is one of those readers. He introduced himself a few years back, and we’ve exchanged a handful of emails since then. Roy and his wife Betty–both avid readers now in their nineties–live on beautiful Orcas Island off the coast of Washington.

It’s not often that you meet bookworms who have been reading for nearly a century! I wanted to hear from Roy about his life and his favourite books, and he graciously agreed to chat! Here’s our conversation:

Elsie: Thanks so much for joining me for this interview! First, could you tell Tea and Inkers a bit about yourself…where you grew up, if you went to college or lived overseas, where you live now, etc? Tell us as much or as little as you like, just to help readers get to know you a bit!

Interviewee Roy Williams smiling for the camera

Roy: I was born in 1928 (just before the Great Depression) in Cottage Grove, Oregon, a small logging and mill town about 150 miles south of Portland.

My mother was an avid reader and she was determined that I should learn to read as soon as I could. I  knew and could name and print my letters when I was 3. I was given children’s books as gifts.

In 1932, we lived on a small farm and the local school was a one room schoolhouse with 10 students and one teacher for all 8 grades. My mother and the teacher were great friends and thought it would be a fine idea to give me a head start in life by starting me in the first grade when I had just turned 4. Consequently I had a half year of college completed before I turned 17.

We moved to Portland in 1934. My father attended a school to learn about diesel engines. We weathered the depression and following World War II years and I attended Reed College majoring in my great interest in chemistry. All of my working career of 33 years was in the chemical industry, both in research and marketing.

I met my future wife, Betty, also in 1934 when we met as children. This year will mark 90 years since we first met and 74 years since we married. We have 2 daughters (both now in their 60s).

We moved from Portland in 1984 to our present location on Orcas Island in San Juan County, Washington.

Elsie: Now, tell us about your earliest reading memories. Did you enjoy reading as a child? Or was it a chore? What was your family’s “reading culture” like growing up?

Roy: I have always enjoyed reading and my favorite place to be was in a library, whether it be in the school library or at a public library. I always had a number of books at hand to bury my nose in. I don’t remember any specific books that were my early reading. I simply read anything that was at hand.

Elsie: Did you have a favourite reading spot as a kid?

Roy: I read everywhere–any spot that was out of the way. I often would take a book and a flashlight to bed with me and would read under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping. I would read in the back seat of the family car when we would go on trips.

Elsie: Were there any people in particular that had an impact on your reading life (such as teachers, parents, older siblings, etc.)?

Roy: Teachers, parents, family friends–I never had anyone try to discourage me.

Elsie: What books were influential to you as a young man (teens or young 20s)?

Roy: I always have at all ages and still do go on “reading binges” of a particular genre–mythology, mystery, western, biography, etc.

Elsie: Are there any other milestone moments in your reading life, or books that stood out to you at particular seasons?

Roy: The principal “milestone” would be the arrival of the computer and the (to me) delight in being able to “google” to find titles and authors that I would never have heard of otherwise.

Elsie: What is your reading life like now? What rituals do you have around reading, and what genres of books or what authors are you into lately? What are you currently reading, and what’s next on your to-read list?

Roy: Being now in our late nineties, both my wife and I take great pleasure in reading– me with hardback editions and my wife (with failing eyesight) in audiobooks. I am currently re-reading classics that are annotated which is a pleasure because of the filling in of the sometimes obscure references that the author has used. I am currently re-reading Shakespeare in its annotated form.

Elsie: What is your home library like? Do you have a criteria for choosing which books to read or own?

Roy: A year ago, we downsized from our home of the last 40 years to a condominium.  Which meant a rather severe reducing the size of our library from about 4,000 volumes to 500. Very, very hard to do because it meant parting with old friends.
No specific criteria in choosing which books to read or own, my fields of interest are so varied.

Interviewee Roy Williams pictured in front of his bookshelves
Roy pictured in his home library

Elsie: Are there any books that you regularly re-read?

Roy: I have re-read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” 7 times and various Shakespeare plays and poetry often. I only keep in our personal library books that I want to re-read. We have a framed poster on the wall that says “So Many Books, So Little Time” and that certainly applies in our house. 

Elsie: Taken as a whole, what books or authors would you say are lifelong favourites, ones that have stood the test of time for you?

Roy: James Joyce, of course–Chaucer–Arthur Conan Doyle–Lewis Carroll

Elsie: Do you and Betty read any books together, such as aloud together, or read separately and then discuss?

Roy: We do discuss books and audiobooks that we feel the other might be interested in.

Elsie: What advice would you give to people who want to cultivate a reading habit?

Roy: To me, if one wants to start a reading habit, always start with a subject of particular interest to that particular reader. I remember in school, assigned reading that was of no interest was always very difficult.

Elsie: Is there anything else you’d like to say about books and reading, or your life as a reader? Anything else you want to pass on to our Tea and Ink community?

Roy: INDULGE !!! Life is short !!!

Row of vintage books
Talking Books With a 96-Year-Old Reader: A Conversation with Roy Williams

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  1. Wow. 92 years of reading (4,000 books in their personal library?! That’s my new goal!) and 74 years of reading together…admirable and lovely. Thank you for sharing Roy’s long and varied reading life with us!

  2. Thank you for this delightful interview.
    What a pleasure to read (and see the photographs).

  3. I love Roy’s final comment! I want to frame that and put it above my bookshelf. Thank you for sharing this sweet story with us!

  4. I really enjoyed reading Roy’s life experiences with reading, and loved his last response! This encourages me to grow my personal library and collect books that I hope I can one day manage to find the time to read. My TBR pile keeps growing and growing every year. Maybe once I retire I will have more time to read books from my cherished library collection. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. When I worked as a CNA in nursing homes, I often noticed that the residents who loved to read were the most content. I’m so glad there are audio vision goes bad, I can still listen!

    1. That’s neat! My great grandmother, who also lived into her nineties and was the sweetest most content person I knew, was a big reader as well. That was always inspiring to me.

  6. What a treat to read your interview with Roy. He is a delight to read all about his reading habits and his particular favorites. Thank You for sharing this uplifting interview with Roy. God Bless Roy and Betty

  7. Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview. Roy and Betty are an inspiration to all.
    God Bless

  8. I have known Roy and Betty for 64 years and never knew this part of his life! But I am not surprised because he always has had such varied interests and activities, indoor and outside. Boating, hiking, photography, life in general. I, also, have limited vision and can no longer read real books, and I do miss that. I recently got rid of many books that I had hoped to read or read again.

  9. Lovely interview! And I learned a little bit more about my favorite second dad. I remember the library in your house in Milwaukie and the large collection in Orcas when I visited. Many blessings to you and Betty.

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