I frequently write about children’s literature here, but rarely about any adult reads in the house (outside of my obsession with reading cookbooks from cover to cover). And maybe there’s a bit of a confession wound into this – I haven’t really been reading all that much outside of those kid books / cookbook genres. It’s kind of an odd thing to even admit to myself because reading is one of my very favorite things to do. From my earliest reading days through adulthood, I was always buried in a book – I filled my backpack and my lockers with them, I snuck them into the choir songbooks and under the dinner table, I stayed up late, late, late at night, reading by the thin sliver of light from the hall that fell across the bed.
I still love to read, and I do read, but towards the end of last year (around the book fair time), I actually made a list of the books I had read over the past few years and that number was so very low it was embarrassing. I listen to interviews with authors on NPR, I listed to podcasts about books, I read blogs about poetry and literature, I keep lists of recommended books on post-it notes to buy as gifts for friends and family members, I frequently spend free time in bookstores and libraries and seek them out specifically when traveling. So why was it so hard to write down the title of the last book I actually picked up and read cover to cover?
I put some serious thought into this question for a few days. I took a good look at how I was filling up my hours in each day, and why I was so hesitant to pick up a book in the middle of them, or even at the end. I realized that I wasn’t making time to read because I was worried that it would take away time from the four thousand other things I try to jam into each day. Always with the cramming – eventually there’s just no more time. And I’m such a book lover that I know once I start one, I’m hooked. And that worried me – I thought it might throw everything else off track.
Breaking this down a little more, I traced this back to those months that I was studying for my licensing exams. That was the first time in my adult life (since my graduate school days) when I had to consciously turn off almost every act of leisure in order to get through them in the compressed time frame that I allotted myself. I removed every distraction that I could (especially non-study books), and I surprised myself when it actually worked. When the tests were over, I wanted to ride that wave of confidence in my own ability to focus, practice, and conquer – and extend that into other areas of focus as I faced entering my fifth(!) decade of life. I recommitted myself to pushing myself in the kitchen, I committed to a fairly rigorous workout regimen for the first time in my life, and I started making a concerted effort on a regular basis to carve out time in this busy life for myself. I use the word “I” here a lot, but this was really a group effort in the house. We all committed to doing a better job at these things, and we have. We are as dedicated (and supportive) of these efforts as I was in the rigor of those testing days. We’re just over a year into this, and it’s working, and the benefits are so very, very worth it.
So I’ll admit it here – I was afraid to mess with a good thing. I figured I could read on vacation – that’s when every other busy person reads anyway, right?
So back to November, when these thoughts on reading were swirling around in my head – that’s when I decided to test the waters again. I had pledged to myself as I ramped up to my fortieth birthday that I was no longer going to make excuses to avoid the things that I know to be good for me, good for my family, good for my marriage, good for my health. I underestimated the impact of this in the beginning, but I’m a convert now. I don’t wake up in the morning and debate with myself over whether or not I’m going to get up and go into work or get the kids ready for school. (Although there are some days when that idea is tempting!) So if work and school are non-negotiables, why can’t other things be as well? Treating everything else outside of work and school the same way has really worked for us – putting our workout and running schedules on the calendar, mapping out a week’s worth of cooking with a specific list attached – these have become non-negotiables as well, which is strangely freeing. It seemed like a good place to start on my desire to spend more time reading. I’m not (quite) crazy enough to actually schedule out times on my calendar for reading… but I did employ the same kind of techniques as I have with some of my other goals. I logged into my online library card account, I bookmarked the site, and I keep lists of books that I want to read on there. I started with one last November – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I placed a request for the book, selected the library branch that is on my direct commute home, and as soon as I got the email that it was ready for pickup, I did just that.
I know that none of this is rocket science, but over the past few months it has been a game changer for me. I don’t skip my long runs for afternoon reading sessions – but while I’m running, I certainly look forward to that moment when I will climb into bed and settle into a chapter or two, my body tired, but also floating. We still cook dinner, we work on house projects, we cuddle up and read chapter after chapter to the girls – like anything else, I just have to trust myself that I can find balance in these busy years. It takes effort and discipline, and a good deal of letting go of the things that just aren’t that important, at least not right now. Let me fall asleep in my book, while he falls asleep in his next to me. One of us will eventually get the light and call it another good day indeed.
Here’s what I’ve been reading. I’d love to hear your recommendations as well. I’m currently reading In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri – each page spread has Italian on the left and English on the right. I’m challenging myself to read both sides at the same time – my Italian is rusty, so I actually read it aloud like a new reader would, so if you hear mumbling from the bath tub, you know what that is.