Saturday, April 12, 2014

Finding Time to Read Furiously

When I was a kid, my favorite activity was reading.  Maybe that's an understatement - my favorite activity was reading everything in my path.  Books, TV Guides (especially TV Guides, I really miss them), newspapers, Avon books, street signs...you name it, I read it.  I read as though I couldn't get the words into my brain fast enough. My mother would send me to clean up my room and she would catch me, two hours later, in a pile of stuff on the floor reading a book that I found under the bed.  Although I come from a family who reads, it drove my mother crazy.  But I couldn't stop; I always needed more books to read:  The Egypt Game, the Goosebump series, Judy Blume, The Babysitters Club series, Tuck Everlasting, A Book of Mermaids, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, etc. We never had a lot of money, so my saving grace was the library.  I would take out so many books that we created a designated library tote bag.  I was proud of that tote bag - I insisted on carrying it myself, all the while thinking about where these books were going to take me.

Fast forward to high school and I was still reading everything I could get my hands on.  I fell into a group of friends who loved reading as much as I did; soon, we were in a book club that consisted of us eating lunch in the school library and reading silently (occasionally, someone would pause and read a line aloud to the rest of the group - quietly, of course). Together we discovered, among others,  Francesa Lia Block, David Sedaris, the Jessica Darling series (Megan McCafferty's mother was our home economics teacher!) and Perks of Being a Wallflower.  

Going to college was terrifying - my biggest fear was I could not decide what books to bring with me (oddly enough, one of my students is transferring to another college next year.  It's far from home and she needs to live on campus.  She sat in my office and kept asking, "But which ones do I bring?  How do I choose?"  In the next beat she says, "Well I have to take Perks."  Some things never change, thankfully.  Don't worry - we made a tentative list of books, which I'm sure she will change in the coming months.  I know I did.).  Another fear had been that I wouldn't find a roommate who loved books as much as me.  Luckily, I brought the right amount of books and my roommates loved to read.  Some of my happiest memories are all of us lying about our one bedroom apartment (for five girls) and reading.  The patio door would be open, a breeze would be blowing in, and we would be sprawled like cats reading our books and magazines.  As I began to try my hand at film, my reading experience expanded to screenplays and graphic novels.  One of my favorite writing professors, Dan Pope (author of In The Cherry Tree) was known to hand out books to students.  When he stopped teaching, he continued to send his previous students boxes of books to read (I mean, a BOX of books, super heavy and super worth carrying up the many flights of stairs to my apartment...I still have every single one).

Today I still consider myself to be a furious reader (for all the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons).  However, my furious reading comes in waves - some days I am too tired from reading student papers to even think about picking up a novel.  Other days I want to binge-watch a new show on Netflix.  What had been so easy for me as a child, a teen, and a college student has now become another bullet point on my list of things to do.

But that's the problem, isn't it?  It is on the list, but it isn't a priority on the list.  Most of the time I'm thinking about what else needs to be done - laundry, dishes, student conferences, oh Lord, did I forget a paper somewhere, preparing for a conference presentation, visiting family, which job do I need to go to today? - while I'm reading.  Can I consider this to be *me* time? Am I allowed to take this moment to celebrate reading furiously?  

According to our current cultural norms, absolutely not.  We need to keep moving, we need to keep constructing the City upon the Hill.  And that city does not need more books.  My favorite lie to tell myself is that I will read furiously when I have time.  Guess what, my furious readers?  We will NEVER have time to read unless we make the time to read.  And why not?  It's just as important as going to the gym or making ourselves a healthy meal.  Reading is food to the soul; it tames the mind and enlightens the spirit.  Don't we feel that way after a good walk or a good meal?  We are told that children should read twenty minutes a day, yet we never think about how many minutes an adult should read every day.   I think the twenty minute rule should continue to apply, even as we enter our busy labyrinth of adulthood.  

I still read a lot (between 75-100 books a year), but I want to make reading a priority.  A real priority.  Twenty minutes a day is  good start;  I'll still allow the amazing days of binge-reading, but I won't wait for them to present themselves.  Twenty minutes is doable and it can be done every single day. It's time for a revolution - grab a book, take a seat, and begin to read.  It may not be as simple as it used to be, but it is still worthwhile.  

Twenty minutes.  Each day. Seven days a week.  Four weeks a month.  Twelve months a year.  Every year.  

Go forth and read furiously.>
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