Thursday, October 28, 2010

Our Relationship to Reading

While so much in my life has changed over the years the one constant has been my love of books. A passion for reading is a thread that connects me to so many friends, extending all the way back to elementary school where my friend Julie Rucker and I shared our love of books.

Recently Julie shared an essay she wrote on reading that reminded me of how important it is to share our favorite stories with each other. Like most of us, Julie has gone through lots of changes over the years, while husbands and jobs have come and gone, her boo
k collection and emotional connection to the stories remains true. I hope you will connect to her passion as much as I do and please feel free to share your thoughts as well...

Julie's Reflections on Reading

Read-such a simple word that has so many implications, connotations, emotions and goals. There should really be eighty unique words for it, like the Inuit have terms for types of snow. There are casual reads and forced reads, private reads, and those done for the appearance of privacy like on a crowded airplane, administered purposefully to avoid talking with the guy in the seat next to you. Where did the peaceful exploration of a new novel go with its fresh, inky smell and crisp virgin pages? “No time to read,” “Have to read,” these are the phrases going through my mind now. I long for the time when the hubbub of the day was merely interference to settling down with that novel that my sister just sent in the mail. But chaos runs its course and I know another novel will find its way to me. Maybe simply out of exhaustion I’ll put down the tools of the job of daily living and pluck one of the many mysteries from high upon my plant shelf, plump a pillow and be absorbed by a new place, another time, and an exhilarating adventure that I just would not otherwise have time for.

Growing up, books were everywhere in my family’s house. Mom and Dad were always building or dragging in new book cases for the ever expanding library. Each holiday, birthday, and any day for that matter, books were customary gifts for us. Even the tooth fairy brought me a book once. It was Nothing Ever Happens on My Block. I still have it. I still have nearly every book ever given to me which explains the plant shelf overflow. There’s an entire novel assortment given to me that I’ve nearly made a dent in and books categorized by subject. My library is noticed immediately, but not always favorably by those entering my home. Several people have suggested I get rid of them, but with the exception of gifting one now and then, the collection remains. It has outlived two husbands (they’re still alive, just no longer my husbands) who just could not fathom why I would keep a set of encyclopedias published in the 1950’s. Either you get it or you don’t. I’m sure there’s still valid information in those resources that not only did my older siblings and I use to do school reports, but my own kids have used them as well. And why would I keep those novels given to me by a dear elderly friend? Alright, some books are kept for sentimental reasons, but I swear I will get around to reading them someday.

There is a beautiful consumption that swells over me when I’m immersed in a new book. Almost obsessively I cannot wait to return to it again, and it’s such a rewarding moment when reading that last page. That is true of the good ones, anyway. For those that border on lame the compulsion is an optimism that it will get better, so I finish those too, generally. But that lovely, faraway place between the pages might as well be in someone else’s house when life gets just too darn busy.

Why isn’t reading a priority? It certainly should be. It calms the body and sharpens the mind, an anecdote to the stressors and pressures of all those other things like working and raising children. The read does take a back seat to the looming responsibilities. I think if there is indeed a literary crisis today that it is an issue of time management, not so much empathy for the practice. Understandable too is the interference of stimuli such as electronics. If I am not currently absorbed in one tale or another I’m more likely to turn on the television or play a game of Texas HoldEm on the computer to end the day. That is really a little surprising to realize given that just a few months ago those lonely novels were my sleep aid of choice.

It was a passion for a while of which I give the credit to a childhood friend who had just published her first novel. I couldn’t attend the debut and book-signing, so I sent my sister from New York in my place. Soon after that I received my autographed copy of The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne in the mail, and I gobbled it up like a box of Cheez-its. The read launch me into a whirlwind of books, one after another. That era continued for quite a while. Looking back, it may have ended right around the time that I lost my job. Also my rickety, old, wooden ladder broke, so I couldn’t reach the plant shelf anymore.

Come to think of it, there must be plenty of dust up there. Note to self- buy a new ladder and start reading again; the dust can wait.

The perk that unemployment has awarded me is the freedom to return to school, thus the forced read comes into play. I was awaiting my Mentor’s arrival at the cafĂ© and reading bits and pieces from a book on a Pueblo ruin that I had just picked up at a used book store in town when he arrived. Having chosen a text for his course that won’t arrive for another week, he asked me to finish reading the one in my hands. “The whole thing?” I said to myself. While it is my desire to absorb the information, I planned for the technical compilation to be a behind the scenes reference support, not an assignment. Alas, the forced reading has begun. It’s funny the way components of life fall in to place.

Already this LAS class has been good for me. It has reminded me of a constant throughout my life-books. I can picture the day Mrs. Heinz took our first grade class to the Washington Elementary School library where I watched Caps for Sale waiting for me on the shelf while the librarian spoke. (Teri Coyne was there too.) I remember a Fiction and Fantasy class years later when my proposal for the subject of a book report was denied because The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was too short, so I wrote the report on the entire seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia series. I can recall my Mother telling the story of how she and her cousin, Dolly, would make butter and lettuce sandwiches, gather a stack of books, and read for hours. Reading is a wonderful thing, really. It transcends time, binding humanity together in the literary universe.

I’ve always admired those who take, or make as it were, the time to sit down with a good book. It’s a pleasant past time for sure, but there is also a certain beauty in coming across someone reading; they appear serene. I imagine others notice the peace in such a view. When my daughter was learning to read, and struggling with her fluency and expression, I heard her talking one afternoon on the back porch. As I came closer to the door, I noticed that she was not only seated beside the littler boy from next door, but that she was reading to him. Her words flowed like music. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I crept away and snatched up my camera to capture the glorious event on video.

She, like her mother, wrote her name completely backward for the longest time. My mother used to marvel at the way my writing was in a complete mirror image of how it should be. While teaching Gracie, I often thought if Mother wondered if my dyslexic ways would carry on or subside. Eventually and gradually letters face in the right direction, and someday the little girl will be sharing the wonders of a book with another child, maybe her own. For now, she’ll keep mixing her d’s with b’s and p’s with q’s just as I did, but before she knows it she’ll be engaged in a forced read for a college class, eating a butter and lettuce sandwich.


Melissa Crytzer Fry said...

What a wonderful reminder of the beauty and complexity of reading. Forced reading, yes... and pleasure reading. They are so different, aren't they?

Like both of you, I was a bookworm as a child. And over the years, my commitment to books has waxed and waned as life has 'gotten in the way' (though I'm happy to report that I am on a reading high right now - and not surprisingly, also due to Teri's wonderful debut). I'm making reading a priority for all the reasons listed in this post. The comment, "It calms the body and sharpens the mind, an anecdote to the stressors and pressures of all those other things like working and raising children," really resonated with me (though my kids are of the furry variety). Reading really is good for the soul!

Thank you for sharing this essay, Teri, and Julie for writing it - and both of you for your love of books and sharing the important role that reading plays in our lives. As for dusting ... Eh... I'd pick the book instead!

Rita Stricker said...

I first read Julie's essay while sitting outside the Log Cabin in Chino Valley (sorry, Jules, if I'm telling tales) and it's just as enjoyable in my own living room. Good essay, good books, good friends.