Sunday, July 10, 2011

I haven't been reading many books lately; and because, since the age of six, I've been a book drunkard, not reading is an odd predicament for me to be in. I do feel calm about it, despite the strangeness, which is not what I feel when I haven't been writing for a while, when I become all jangled and pessimistic and melodramatically self-hating. But I am puzzled about this reading drought. I might blame it on summer: everyone's home, the house is small, the boys are large and sociable. I might blame it on my editing schedule, which is overwhelming and eye-exhausting. But, truly, when I need to read, nothing can stop me--neither rackety children, nor the pressures of lawn mowing, nor other people's deadlines. And for whatever reason, right now I do not need to read.

After the murders, when I was grasping for comfort, I fell headfirst into Stevenson's Kidnapped and that felt exactly right. But since then, books have not desired me. I pick one up, read a few lines, and then set it down again on the kitchen table. My mind wanders away from the story instead of burrowing into it. The tale and I are well mannered but estranged.

In my essay about rereading War and Peace (which I believe I reprinted in its entirety somewhere on this blog--the essay, not W&P), I wrote:
On its simplest level, rereading books is a childish habit, like biting my nails or agreeing to play Monopoly only if I can be the dog. But children understand there’s satisfaction in familiarity. When I reread a book, I’m already prepared for all sudden deaths and thwarted romances. The shock of the new is not, to me, a literary recommendation. It’s not that I dislike discovering unknown books. I just like reading them again better. Sometimes my desire to reread a well-loved book erupts twice in one year, sometimes once in a decade. Often I reread books I only sort of enjoyed the first time through, and fairly often I reread books that actively annoy me but that I hope will have a medicinal effect on my character or my brain. I’ve been known to reread books that have no good qualities whatsoever, just for old times’ sake.

Now I'm seeing not reading as its own childish reaction--a refusal to concentrate, a stubborn resistance to imagination. At the same time I know this separation won't last. And I'm wondering which book will be the one that recasts the spell.


Julia Munroe Martin said...

I can really relate to this because I haven't been reading (much) lately either. For me, in addition to childish, it's also a reaction to a lot of change going on: kids in college, my role changing, etc. It's very hard to concentrate (the same reason it's been hard to write). I like the thought that a book will re-cast the reading spell...and it gives me some hope.

Ruth said...

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Baumeister/ I know that you rarely read new fiction; however, I read this twice right away as I did your Tracings and Pam Harrison's Out of silence!) and then I nedded toown them! Perhaps this will be a help/