Yesterday, I read Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. I started at six am and finished at midnight. I didn't read all day, I also made apple butter, ginger muffins, cooked three meals, walked several miles, and cleaned the bathroom. But, in between things, in the hours of darkness that begin and end the day, I read. It was a good book, not great, but good. But for me, it was amazing, because I have stopped reading. This is a shock considering that I am ingrained in the culture of words. I am an english teacher, a writer, and a scholar. But, for years I have not read. A book here and there begun, but cast aside or read painfully slowly, yes; but for the most part, nothing. Recently, this has changed. Last weekend, I read Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero, a book given to me for my brithday two years ago, but until recently had lain unopened. Today, I have begun Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.
Growing up, I read all the time. I always had a book in my hand. I did not watch tv. I played outside. I rode my horse: and I read. As a child I was obsessed with reading whole series' of books. I read the entire Wizard of Oz, Bambi, and Narnia series (twice) by the time I was 8 years old. In high school I was obsessed with high lit, Harlequin romances and Louis Lamour. I read War and Peace in a weekend on a dare. I read the entire Louis Lamour collection in a summer. I read a book a day, at least. I would stay up late into the night huddled under the covers with a flashlilght reading. Books were my food and joy--I would eat books consuming them as fast as I could and then suck their marrow. I would ingest them. Swallow them in whole bites. Once I picked one up I read until I was done. I had no need for bookmarks.
In the past 20 years, as I finished two degrees in English, and embarked on a third, the University was killing my appetite for reading. As I became essentially a professional reader, I lost my desires for them. My early habits had taught me the discipline that I needed to get all my reading done quickly, and for that I will always be thankful, but the joy was gone. Turned off by encounters with bad books, the pressures of seeing the books in a predetermined light, by reading them through academic eyes, and by the knowledge that I would be expected to write about them my passion was still present, but definitely cooled. The death blow came with a mentoring relationship that killed my joy for books, and nearly destroyed me. In the last years of grad school I read nothing that was not assigned, (and sometimes not even books that were). I lived in a book culture, but I was not interested anymore. I read less and less. Books disappeared from my life. I boxed them up. I gave them away. I smiled at friends as I slid great and wonderful books from birthday and christmas wrappings knowing that they would go unread.
Eventually, it all became too much. I left grad school physically and emotionally sick and tired. Too exhausted to think, read, or write. Televsion became my solace. I didn't have to think. I didn't have to explain what it meant. I could just sit and let these stories roll over me with no expectations or accountability. I associated books with a litany of professional and personal failures. Books were accomplices with personal disasters that were so painful that even the slightest allusion was a virtual dismantling. Moby Dick, Country of the Pointed Firs, anything about the sea, anything from the 19th century, anything with words, flayed me like lashes. Opening certain novels tore into unhealed wounds, and I was tired of nursing all those sores. It was easier not to. I turned my back on words.
In retrospect, I am grateful to those hours of television. The numbing healing power of TV's nothingness kept me from picking at those sores and allowed me to erase myself for a time. But now, I am ready to return to books. I have unpacked my boxes. When my nephew picked up my copy of Moby Dick and looked excitedly at the pictures of whales, ships, and ambergris I was able to tell him a story about each picture without much more than a twinge. I know now that I am ready to return to grad school. It will not be easy, this I know. I will always have the scars. But, with time, and with a returning to the innocence of words I am healing. I have not read The Country of the Pointed Firs or anything associated with my dissertation yet. For now, I am reading the fun stuff. Chick lit, decadent novels, pulp, I am eyeing that giant stack of Louis Lamour in my garage. The important thing is that I am back. I am reading.
While the Sun Shines
2 years ago