There was a time (not long ago, hanging head) when I barely read at all. There was a time before that that I read all the time, starting long before kindergarten and stretching through the years into adulthood. I read so much that I got in trouble for it. Frequently. I read by the sliver of light from the hallway through the crack of the door, upside down in my bed to catch it on the page. I stuck books in my choir book (got in trouble), on my lap under the dinner table (more trouble), and I brought stacks of them to shove into my locker and rent to other seventh graders on Free Choice Fridays (I only got stopped from profiting from the endeavor – I was still allowed to hand out books to all the kids who couldn’t be bothered to remember to bring their own books from home.). I read all the time – quickly, efficiently, and with gusto.
I don’t know why I stopped, but I did. At some point I must have decided that I didn’t have time to read books anymore, and so I occasionally bought a book or borrowed a book, but I rarely cracked them open. I can’t even tell you how long the hiatus lasted – maybe it was a relatively short time in the girls’ early years, when I did in fact read – just mostly to them. I just vividly remember seeing a list of books that an acquaintance read THAT MONTH and the stack of titles was larger than I could remember reading over years. Who reads like this, I wondered? How do they work? And care for children? And go to meetings? And occasionally shower, or maybe sleep?
And after I got over feeling incredulous, I really had to revisit the absence of books in my life. I was purchasing them as gifts, and listening to reviews on NPR, and recommending titles to others, and visiting the children’s wing of the library weekly, and somehow it had just never occurred to me that I could still just sit with a book (outside of vacation) and read it? So I decided to change that, and I picked up right where I left off.
I’m still in awe of how many books people read – people I know who are busy with just as many things as I am. They are likely fast readers, but so am I. They probably get sleepy at night midway through their second chapter, as I almost always do. Some weeks I feel like I’m crawling through my current read, while my library holds expire and my nickel fines add up.
But I’m reading such dense work right now – deep and complicated and often difficult texts that require reading and re-reading passages, and sometimes just sitting with the words in silence for awhile before moving on. I tell myself to mix it up with some fast-moving easy reads, but I’ve opened some sort of door into books that start to fill in all the gaps that I grew up with – and I just can’t stop. It feels like there is so much that I need to know, and want to experience, and that’s the part that feels just like it did when I was a kid and that hidden book felt more important to me than all the other stuff around me.
My latest deep dive has been into Zadie Smith’s Feel Free – a collection of essays that initially felt so manageable in their length and subject matter – a 450 page tome already parceled into easily digested portions I could slide in here and there between the rest of the stuff that fills up my life these days. And then I started them, and was engulfed by them, and I’ve read and re-read them to the point that I’m no longer opening my email reminders from the library.
I read one of them, and (pretended to) underline two dozen different lines I wanted to email a friend immediately. I starred another one that I’d create book club around just to discuss it with a crowd. I read her essays on other literary works and I feel like I’m back in graduate school again, in that attic classroom I shared with other students with more bookish majors. I had a gap to fill in my schedule, and I jumped the architecture ship for this class where I was certain to be found out as an impostor. But I never was, and I read books and wrote papers and never missed a single lecture. It was heaven.
So I’m taking my time on this one – I’m done, but still re-reading. I’ll return it to the library some time this week, and pay my fines willingly. And then I’ll jump into my next book, slow and steady, making up for lost time.