Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

On Reading
October 12, 2007


Even a cursory run through the digital cable directory makes it clear that there are many addictions beyond the usual drink, drugs, sex and food. One can also develop the need to shop, gamble, play computer games, surf the internet, exercise to the point of illness, get plastic surgery or engage in high-risk activities. Although I admit to a somewhat pathological relationship with food, my real addiction is, and always has been reading.

I taught myself to read before starting school, and it has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. As a child I read greedily and constantly: Betsy Tacy and Tib, Little Women, The Five Little Peppers, Harriet The Spy, Pippi Longstocking, Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, Polyanna, The Little Princess, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, books about horses, books about orphans, books about magic, books about witches, books by Elizabeth Enright, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, cereal boxes, magazines, and (in desperation) my parents’ books.



I had to be reminded not to read at the dinner table, and my most common punishable infraction was not coming when called to empty the dishwasher or set the table because I needed “just a minute” to finish the chapter. Summer vacations required selection of books for the car, the location of a local library during summers in Maine, and of English-language bookstores (summers in Europe). To the extent that my family had a religion, it was reading; my parents read, my brother read (although he read the same things over and over again), my uncles and grandmothers read, and my parents friends read, discussed and lent books.

My best friend was also an avid reader, and we spent endless hours “playing” the books we had read. We knew kids who didn’t like to read, but they were of relatively little use to us – they could play with us if they wanted to, but we first had to explain the characters, the plot and the scenery to be imagined. How could someone play “Heidi” if they didn’t understand that Heidi was nice, Clara was not nice, and Peter was the dud role because he was a boy?


I was a happy English student throughout High School, enjoying Shakespeare, Norris and Dreiser as my friends groaned, and went on to be an English major, thus guaranteeing myself an excuse to read constantly for another four years. I developed a love for fiction and a suspicion of non-fiction, and a taste for poetry and dramas. Law School was a bad call for many reasons (about which more another day) but it was the only time it was actually difficult and tedious to read. Reading property law, unless you are an enthusiast is to “regular” reading as eating plain Ryvita is to eating a warm slice of homemade bread with butter melting on top. If I had finished my assigned reading, I rewarded myself with something light and entertaining, like The Shell Seekers.

When I was pregnant, I had to lie in a hospital bed for 7 weeks due to the inconvenient incompetence of my cervix. After a brief flirtation with The Home Shopping Network, I read. Constantly. Family and friends brought in bags of used mysteries, brand new novels, and books they had just finished and enjoyed, and I devoured them fro the minute I was awakened for a pill at 6:00 a.m. until I fell asleep, stopping only when there was an actual human being in my room who needed to speak to me. It was a splendid coping mechanism, and prevented me from going quite insane.


Had I suspected during all of those years of reading that my pleasure would some day be rationed, I might have enjoyed it even more. I certainly didn’t enjoy bed rest in the hospital, but viewed in hindsight as carte blanche to do absolutely nothing but read (and incubate) for nearly two months, it was a rare opportunity. I also look back fondly on my college habit of getting up on Sunday and reading the entire novel-to-be-discussed-on Monday in one long sitting. I now sneak reading in between work, household chores, volunteer activities, chauffering, cooking, family activities, and sleeping.

These days, there is always a pile of books somewhere waiting until I have time to read them, and a list of books waiting until I have time to get them so that they be added to the pile. I have a system for the order in which the pile is read: 7-day library books, then regular library books, the borrowed books, then my own books. Like breaking the glass in case of emergency, I make exceptions if I am very sad and need cheering up; under those circumstances I can pick whatever I want to read, out of order. I also have an expiration date policy: books that do not appeal to me when they come up in rotation (these are usually books that have been lent to me by someone who loved them) have to be returned to their source or given away, no matter how uncomfortable the necessary conversation. (“Thanks for lending me this book that you found life-changing, but it just looks really boring to me and I am choosing not to read it”).


Always in my pile? Cook books, collections of food writing, chef memoirs, and anything new by Anne LaMott, Alice Hoffman, Elizabeth George, or Jan Karon. Sometimes in my pile? The newest trendiest book club-by books (The Life of Pi, Peace Like a River), well-written chick lit (guilty pleasure I) and mysteries (guilty pleasure II), funny stuff (David Sedaris). Never in my pile: biographies (unless they are about chefs), romances, self-help, books about what’s wrong with America, my children, the public schools, the church or my eating habits, spy thrillers, historical fiction, books by Mitch Alblom, books by Nicholas Sparks or political tomes.

What I am dying to read: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon. Well, and the final Harry Potter. Maybe, if I can dust faster, cook smarter, nap less and say “no” to watching “Jeopardy,” I can get a fix in soon?