Friday, January 14, 2011

Reading (and not)

A friend sent me this link to a blog post entitled "Reading as A Comfort." Reading it, I thought, "Oh, I don't do that anymore." Upon a moment of reflection, I realized that this is not entirely true, but for the most part, well, it seems my reading days are over (at least for now).

Sure, I still read. I read articles on the Web. I read parts of books. I may read an entire book, but as it's usually not fiction, I might pick it up in the middle, and return to the rest of it a year later. As for fiction, well, I'm beginning to be a what I used to call a "movie person."

Oh, how I am moaning to myself, thinking back on a time when I had a friend's kids in my car, with their father, whom I hardly knew, and his 12-year-old son asked me if I'd seen "Moby Dick." "No, I read it", said I. When I suggested he borrow the book and give it a try, the father harumphed and said "A picture is worth a thousand words." He was not a reader. I was appalled.

Of course, a part of me was disturbed by a parent dissuading a child from reading, but another part of me was just being the snob that I was. I've always thought words were superior to any visual art. A good book,  well. . .I'm not enough of a writer to describe the feelings I once had for them.

If it wasn't for fiction, I think I wouldn't have made it through growing up. I lost myself in books. Comfort isn't a good enough word. Books were survival. I could have done with less food and worse shelter, but I could not have done with less books. No library? I fear I would have died.

One particularly bad summer, I read at least two books a day. I hung an adding machine paper roll (anyone remember those?) on the wall of my bedroom and carefully wrote down the name of each book I read. I read a mystery novel each night, which I would consume in one gulp, not sleeping until I knew who dunnit (even if I had figured it out).

On weekends, a friend and I would go to the library and take out all the books we could carry about a subject we knew nothing about. We'd sit in her basement, drawing and reading at the same time, and sharing factoids with each other. Of course, today, we'd probably be doing this online.

Though I sometimes wish I had an iPad and all my books on one device, thinking "to heck with paper", there is something so comforting (there, I said the word) about a pile of books. Imagining myself back in time with my childhood friend, surrounded by hard cover books with their crinkly plastic library wrapping gives me a warm feeling. The library itself makes me feel good. A town without a decent library is not a real town.

Now, that is an archaic notion, isn't it?

Right now, I'm surrounded by piles of books, and yet I'm not reading them, at least not with the same fervor that I once did. When was the last time I let myself be lost in a book? It's been quite some time.

Yet, the stacks that surround me give me pleasure. I pick them up, read a few paragraphs, desire to read some more, but yet. . .

It seems I've become a do-er, not a reader. I want to spin yarn, draw, play an instrument, cook something, putter around, play with my cat, or write, talk to a friend. Time is short!

Is that all there is to it, the fact that time moved more slowly when I was young? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Perhaps I don't want to be lost in anything these days.

But, yes, I miss the fictional worlds I once was so in love with. In reading, say, Trollope, I came to know people and times I could not get to any other way. I'm glad for it, but I fear that the power of fiction has lost its allure. I seem to like present day reality far better. Even while writing this, I am thinking, "I could be spinning up that new fiber." There's just to much to do, not enough time, and certainly one lifetime is not enough.

It certainly sounds as if I'm enjoying life, so this must be a good thing, no?

Image note: Frontispiece for the 1861 edition of Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White."

I think back on discovering so many authors, and think it was like discovering new and unexplored territory, or finding new love. Are those days over for me?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another great post. I so relate to it all. Perhaps it is aging...