I was the kid who always had her nose in a book. And they were great books, full of heroines like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and the March’s of Little Women. There was also a quaint series about a Jewish family living in New York City – “All of a Kind Family”, which I loved; the Lloyd Alexander “Prydain” chronicles; and then of course Harriet the Spy. When my nieces came along, I tried and failed to get them interested in any of these and it was heartbreaking, especially when my friend told me her own daughter kept getting into trouble for reading instead of getting ready for school, or eating her dinner. I was filled with jealousy, because I’d totally want a kid like that. I mean, I was that kid.
In college I ignored every English professor I had who entreated me to switch my major. Reading and writing were like breathing to me, why on earth would I major in such a thing? It seemed ridiculous. I should have listened to them, of course, and I should have become a writer or an editor or something of that ilk…but all I could envision was teaching, which would mean getting up Very Early Every Day, and that is an impossibility for me. I stubbornly clung to my political science major, which we all now know is one of the most useless majors on the planet, and for the most part avoided all classes scheduled before noon. Ironically, I used that free time to read what I wanted and write in my journal.
As an adult, my reading habits continued. For a long time, my habit was sustained by public libraries and used bookstores. Then came the Big Bad Chain bookstore, with which I carried on a torrid affair for years. Even after leaving Maine I would sneak in and out of there, hoping no one saw me buying books at non-locally owned shop…even though the Big Bad Chain had put many of those local shops out of business so I couldn’t buy stuff at those places anyway. I loved flashing my red member card, and handing over the coupons I’d printed out from my email, both of which allowed me to often leave the store with a pile of books and magazines for $20. Then I got a job in Boston that was RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the Big Bad Chain, and I was doomed.
And, as it happened, so was Borders.
The end of Borders was the end of an era for me. I tried to cotton to Barnes & Noble, but the one closest to me is in a strip mall with such insane traffic & parking I now only go there if the VEB is driving. On top of that, the store never has what I am looking for, and even if they do have it no one can find it because the shelves are such a mess (did they stop teaching alphabetical order in public schools?). In my neck of the woods B&N is the only non-religious bookstore around, and since I’m never in the market for a bible that leaves me with ordering online. And I’ve read enough about Amazon’s business practices to feel like every time I push the order button my soul dies just a little bit.
The upshot of all this is, somewhere in the past couple of years I pretty much just stopped reading. Online stuff, sure; my National Geographics and the VEB’s Scientific Americans; and my habitual long hot baths are always accompanied by David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, and Haven Kimmel. I love those authors, demonstrated by the fact that I read at least one essay or chapter of theirs on average once a day, but after about the 30th read they cease to be much of a challenge. I think of it as comfort reading – books that I enjoy, make me laugh, keep me company.
But literature? Or even nonfiction? I got into the Outlander series for awhile, but after the 5th book or so I crashed and burned. Last year I read “Proof of Heaven”, only because the VEB read it and one point threw it across our Quebec City hotel room because it was so awful, and my curiousity was piqued. (It was truly that awful.) I also read The Measure of a Nation by Howard Friedman, another VEB pick, which is awesome and terrifying and should be read by everyone. But other than that? Unless is was a knitting pattern, I didn’t read it.
I decided to try to remedy this situation this week while I’m on vacation, with really no plans – courtesy of having lots of vacation days that I need to use or lose before then end of the year. I put out a call for reading suggestions on Facebook, receiving few, but opted to go with The Luminaries. It’s literature! It’s written by a woman! It won the Man Booker Prize! I paid $28 full price retail at the pain-in-the-arse Barnes & Noble for it!
It’s also over 800 pages long. The second sentence is a terribly written run-on that takes up an entire paragraph. It’s taken me three days to read Chapter 1. I am currently curled up at the VEB’s house with one of his cats writing THIS BLOG POST instead of progressing to Chapter 2. I am thinking about everything I can and should do other than read. There are things to be KNIT and SEWN and PHOTOGRAPHED, not to mention CLEANED. And, y’know, the cat over there looks pretty peaceful napping in the sun, I could use a good nap too (even though I have been awake for exactly two hours).
Monkey mind, indeed.
It’s possible this is just not the book for me, but I’m worried just the same. What if my compulsive internet surfing habits have left me unable to concentrate on anything? What if my constant multi-tasking at work has left me incapable of doing one thing at a time? Have I become so tightly wound that relaxing with a book is now an impossibility? If I’m not a reader anymore, who am I?
Maybe I just need to switch to audio books?