Readers’ Anonymous

My name is Bethany and I am a read-aholic.

As addictions go, not a bad one, I know. Even if you buy all of your books, reading costs way less than heroin or even marijuana (well, I think it costs less, and you definitely can’t borrow drugs from a library and then return them!).

And, after all, books teach us about the world and about ourselves, if we’re lucky (if we’re conscious!). If you don’t believe me, check out Nina Sankovitch’s TOLSTOY AND THE PURPLE CHAIR, which is sort of about a woman reading a book a day for a year; or try Will Schwalbe’s THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB, about the author and his dying mother and the books they read in her last year or so of life.)

Being a reader, most of the time, feels extraordinarily lucky to me. I can’t imagine not reading. Even so, being asked to not read for a week, and — more or less — complying, forced me to be more aware of the extent to which I use reading as an escape from my family, from stress, not to mention from almost every other other possibly interesting activity. The museum? A movie? The zoo? Couldn’t I just drink a latte and read for a couple of hours?

And it’s not just one book — I am one of those readers who keeps several books going at once. (A week ago, when I finally plunged into Week Four of THE ARTIST’S WAY, I was somewhere in the middle of a Maisie Dobbs mystery; Rebecca Solnit’s new paperback of essays, THE FARAWAY NEARBY; a book about Alzheimers, which I seem to have now misplaced; a very short novel by Japanese poet Tikashi Haraide called THE GUEST CAT [it was supposed to be passed on as a Christmas gift, but its true owner won’t mind waiting a week]; Louise Desalvo’s THE ART OF SLOW WRITING; and, oh yeah, THE ARTIST’S WAY.)

I was not entirely faithful. I picked up the newspaper as I ate breakfast almost every morning. For the first few days I kept checking my email and text messages obsessively for something I just had to read. For the first day and a half I continued listening to a book on CD (another one: THE SCARLET LETTER). When the new issue of THE SUN arrived in the mail, I read one article — very very quickly, like an alcoholic gulping down a glass of scotch before anyone could catch me at it. I read my own pages on the days that I worked (which was less than usual as it was Christmas week, but still).

No matter, even with these lapses and negotiations with Julia Cameron’s goal of not-reading-pretty-much-at-all, the week of reading deprivation made a difference. I took my dog and my daughters for a walk on a nearby beach on Christmas day. I listened to Bon Jovi and Joan Baez while I drove. I people-watched. I did a very little bit of decluttering. I watched several movies I had been wanting to watch but not getting around to (including Violette  and World War Z — eclectic tastes). I called a couple of friends who had called me recently and left messages. On Sunday, determined to take a book-less nap with the dog, I instead decided to go back to the beach with him for a walk (a really wonderful walk) and when I came home I gave him a bath.This morning, when my reading fast was up, I was, weirdly, a little disappointed. And then I read.


The Reading Fast

The Artist’s Way, week four, asks us to give up reading. Julia Cameron promises, “If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.” Down the page a bit, I highlighted this passage (yes, we’re still allowed to read The Artist’s Way):

“Reading deprivation is a very powerful tool–and a very frightening one. Even thinking about it can bring up enormous rage. For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.” (87)

I’ve done this before, of course, and I knew it was coming. In the abstract, it didn’t sound like that big of a deal. A week! Hah! I can do anything for one week!

And I know that I’m a reading addict. I know that giving up reading has been a powerful experience for me in the past. (Remember the Responsible Living workshop, to which I lugged not one but TWO BAGS of books, only to discover that I wasn’t going to be allowed to read for 3 days? Not even at night before falling asleep! And how powerful was that?)

So why all this reluctance?

I bargained for an extra day, thinking I could finish the Maisie Dobbs mystery at least (then I read 80 pages of an Alice McDermott novel instead; and a chapter from my new Rebecca Solnit collection, a Christmas gift, after all). I bargained with myself about whether or not I could read emails and blogs (emails, okay provisionally, but not blogs, I decided). Could I read my new issue of The Sun? (No.)

Next Tuesday morning, it will all be waiting for me. The last 44 pages of the Maisie Dobbs mystery will still be there and the story will roll on.

Meanwhile, I’m going to spend a little time working on poetry. I’m going to do some decluttering. I’m going to do a jig-saw puzzle.

I’m going to try–over the Christmas holiday–to be present with not only my family but also with my own thoughts and feelings.


Happy Valentine’s Day

Apparently there is something afoot on the web, or in the TwitterVerse, called #READWOMEN2014 (look up the Huffington Post article for more information). The idea made its way to me via Kathleen Kirk’s excellent blog, Wait! I Have a Blog?

So, for you, for Valentine’s Day, 14 novels by women, recommended by moi. These are all books I have read, reread, and/or plan to read again. They are not all contemporary novels, though I tried to stick to at least the 20th century. I could have listed LOTS more, and I decided to limit myself to one title per author. That was hard, too.

1. Paradise, Toni Morrison
2. Olive Kitteridge  Elizabeth Strout
3. The Beginning of Spring,  Penelope Fitzgerald
4. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,  Rachel Joyce
5. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,  Helen Simonson
6. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,  Anne Tyler
7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
8. Winter Wheat, Mildred Walker
9. The Moonflower Vine, Jetta Carleton
10. Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, Rumor Godden
11. The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty (I’ll have to save Grace Paley for my list of favorite short-fiction writers)
12. The Outlander, Gil Adamson
13. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
14. The Madonnas of Leningrad, Debra Dean

Currently I am reading Elizabeth’s George’s Just One Evil Act. Next up, Cuckoo’s Calling, which (despite the “Robert Galbraith” on the cover) is written by J. K. Rowling. Then, Have His Carcase, which I have read before (by the way), by Dorothy L. Sayers. I am on a mystery binge. 

Now, back to writing. Happy VD!