Four years ago my then-boss let me go through a few books she was planning to give away. I assume I acquired some ministry references that day, but the book I remember taking was White Teeth, the name of which I must have recognized from some bestseller list or other. It made its way from my old place to my current apartment, where it has set on the sagging section of my shelves that ‘s reserved for novels.
Emboldened by finishing the Hopkins tome during break, I pulled White Teeth off the shelf in early January and dutifully started reading. My New Year’s resolution to write in the evenings has required a bit of space and peace before bed, so I would allot a portion of that space to a chapter a night (when not shamefully substituting a magazine as my nighttime reading). I was involved in the plot and was often eager to keep reading, even though the characters were a little irksome in their self-absorbed disorder. Just as Puccini was able to make me cry over a bunch of whiny brats in La Bohème, Zadie Smith made me care about the fools who make up the world of White Teeth.
One of yesterday’s many errands was having a car safety inspection, so I tossed the novel in my bag to read while I waited. All of my errands all took much less time than I expected, and I found myself pulling out of the inspection station, barely a mile from home, with almost three hours until I had to be anywhere else. I had plans to go to the practice room, but instead I entertained a rebellious idea – what if I just went home?
I kicked off my galoshes and walked into my apartment thinking: Now I can work on my papers or finish my readings for class. I can look over music and empty the dishwasher and the washing machine. I could go for a run. Instead I put a bunch of baby carrots on a plate, sat on the futon (which I arduously cleaned this weekend – do you have any idea how hard it is to put a futon cover on by yourself?) and read my book.
An hour, an hour and a half, the sun went down, rain picked up and let up, neighbors pounded in and out, but I was entranced by my book. I had made it into the final third of the book, when any novel with any sort of epic aspirations starts to swirl toward some grand climax like a little whirl of water picking up speed before it’s sucked down the drain. I was desperate to finish the book before my meeting at BC at 7:00. It was like reading used to be, when I couldn’t put a book down. I stood in the kitchen and stirred my dinner on the stove with my book in hand, turning on the lamp near the table so I could read it as I ate.
I used to read everywhere: on Caribbean beaches (House of the Dead) and city beaches (Common Ground), in the back seat of a rental car as my family drove across South Dakota (Jurassic Park, or something like it), on a tiny towel in a park in Parma while some creep rode his horse in circles around me (Crime and Punishment), on the blue couch in my room at the Paraclete with my head resting against the plaster walls (we wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families), on a bus (What’s the Matter with Kansas? ), on a train (The Poisonwood Bible, sobbing copiously), on a plane (One Hundred Years of Solitude).
Mostly I remember reading in my bed at my parents house when I was younger, waking early (proof that a morning person is always a morning person) and spending entire Saturday mornings, sometimes into afternoons, shifting from leaning back on the headboard to leaning forward over criss-crossed legs to lying on my right and then on my left side. I would grow uncomfortable in each posture but not want to put the book down and come back from whatever world I had gone to. Babysitters’ Club gave way to A Wrinkle in Time and then to The Brothers Karamazov, but the feeling of experiencing a whole world, a universe away and yet held within my hands, stayed the same.
I don’t have many memories of reading in my current home. The last few years have been busy and thrilling, but reading – of all the great pleasures in life, the first I savored – has fallen by the wayside. I make myself feel guilty for having time to read. Shouldn’t I be productive, studious, or at least domestic instead? The cliché of the busy professional with a nightstand full of unread books: should that be my fear or my ideal?
I was sucked back into the world of reading yesterday, absorbed by a good story. When I got home from class (for which, I later discovered, in an instance of the rueful humor that follows me around, I was supposed to read a book), I settled into the same corner of the futon as before (maybe now my ‘usual spot’?) and went away again to the novel’s world. The thickness of pages under my right thumb decreased, the plot’s tension increased, and you could tell “it” was coming, whatever “it” would be. ”It” came and went, the author mercifully tied up a few loose ends, and I read the last page three times to wean myself from the people I got to know these last few weeks, and to come back to my own story again.