A couple of months ago, I came to the shocking and depressing realization that at some point over the past year, I had slowly but surely stopped reading.
Yes, I was reading articles and blog posts online, I was reading recipes, I was reading short stories and poems and lecture material to teach on in my classes, I was listening to audiobooks. But I wasn’t reading.
If you love to read, you know what I mean. It’s that lost-in-another-world, where-did-the-time-go, comfy-chair-tea-and-book kind of magic where it’s you and a collection of pages, words, thoughts, stories, and just everything.
That’s reading. And I stopped doing it.
I did have a halfway decent excuse. My migraines got worse and reading involves constant eye movement and focusing and all things head-related and it was just too hard. I retreated into audiobooks, which is still books and stories and words and magic of its own kind and I love audiobooks because they gave me a means of escape from pain when I needed it most.
But books. I started to miss my books.
And so, not long after my horrified realization that books and I had some relationship issues, I decided that it needed to change. Migraines or no migraines, I needed to start reading again. Reading for myself, that is. Reading for fun. Reading to escape into fantasy and reading to ground myself in reality. Reading to deepen my understanding of history and storytelling and faith. Reading to make me laugh like an idiot regardless of who might notice.
I pity people who don’t enjoy reading. I really do. I felt rather sorry for myself for a while, too. Fortunately, years and years of voracious consumption of the written word meant that no matter how far I thought I had gotten from books, all I really had to do was turn around and pick one up and it would all come back.
I was a very little bit afraid that when I tried to read a book for fun, I wouldn’t be able to get lost the way I used to. I wouldn’t want to keep reading. I would (heaven forfend) get bored.
I didn’t. I started with an old favorite, a little known fantasy trilogy called The Lady in Gil that has everything a proper fantasy series should have – an endearing hero, an exciting plot, and a world that is believable and almost too real. Before I knew it, I was staying up until two or three in the morning to read just one more chapter.
That was it. That was what I remembered, what I used to love, what I needed to rediscover. I finished the first book in just a few days, which is actually pretty paltry compared to the “good old days” of my teen years when a day or two was all I needed, but since I’m a grownup now with a job and a spouse and an entire menagerie of furry dependents, I suppose it’s excusable.
By the time I finished the second book, I was so giddy and excited that my husband demanded to be let in on it, and we started reading the trilogy all over again together, taking turns on chapters, which is much more fun than an audiobook. Now we’re on the third one and I don’t want it to end.
I missed that feeling too – that moment when you come up for air and are shocked to realize that the story is almost over and you want to slow down so that it lasts but you can’t slow down because you need to know what is going to happen. There is nothing quite like it.
A few weeks ago, when I was sick from pain and couldn’t sleep, I pulled two books from my bookshelf, two old friends from many years ago, and proceeded to read them both all through the night. The sun came up as I worked my way through the second one. The world slowly came to life as I finished the final chapters. Pain should have kept me from reading at all, but as hard as it was, the reading made the long night more bearable and the stillness of those predawn hours with just me and my books was soul-soothing.
Of course, now that I’ve started reading again, I’ve run into the “downside” of being a book addict. I don’t think it’s really a downside, but I feel like it’s not the proper and orderly way to do things. What I’m referring to is the “reading multiple books at the same time” problem.
I’m reading five right now. In my defense, they’re all very different. Some are nonfiction while others are fiction, and none is in the same genre. Each one suits a different mood. Each one excites and interests me in a different way. So long as I actually finish all five, I think I’m managing quite well.
Here’s the current rundown:
- A Short History of Irish Literature, by Frank O’Connor
- The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers
- Lady Pain, by Rebecca Bradley (the third book in that fantasy series I was gushing about earlier)
- Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brien
- Prue and I, by George William Curtis
I’m planning to do a book review of the last book, Prue and I, at some point. It’s one of my antique book finds and a whimsical, odd little book that has drawn me in bit by bit. I am in danger of abandoning the other four in favor of finishing the one. But I suppose that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Another result, perhaps most significantly, of my return to books is my return to the Book. Reading was painful and so, bit by bit, I gave up on it. As a result, my devotional life became almost nothing. I stopped desiring to read the Scriptures. When I came back to books, there it was — the book that matters most. I can’t claim that I heard a voice singing tolle lege, but my sudden, irresistible desire to start reading again came with a quiet, gentle, urgent push to start devoting a portion of my day to reading the Bible.
Books have defined my life in countless ways, and there is nothing quite so wonderful as the connection between reader and author through the magic of the written word. I’m glad to have it back.
Book loving friends, what are you reading right now? How many books do you have scattered around the house, half finished evidence of your inability to resist starting into a new one that happened to strike your fancy – or are you a one-at-a-time, disciplined sort? What book is your “comfort read”, your trusted ally on a bad day?