Sunday, January 20, 2008

Books: What Lies Within

I should be doing laundry today. Or putting away the last of the Christmas things. (You know those things...the garland above the china cabinet, the Santa candle in the bathroom, the roll of wrapping paper in the corner...orphaned items that got overlooked in the mad rush to get those boxes packed up and out of the way for another year.) Or ironing. (Perish the thought! But I have perished the thought for so many consecutive weekends that my clothing selection has dwindled to the point where it is embarrassingly repetitive so it's either get out that $%*!# iron or go buy more clothes!) Or--now here's a fine thought--working on my novel (which certainly can't get sold till it gets written). But what am I doing on this fine, cold, blissfully unspoken for Sunday afternoon? Reading a novel. Reveling in its ability to take me away from my living room and into someone else's. Just like that--in just a few well-crafted sentences.

I have loved reading for as long as I can remember--longer, actually; I can't ever remember not reading. My earliest memories are of books--sitting with them at my mother's feet, or pondering what to select as I searched through shelves in the library my childhood church was blessed to have. I read at home, in my car, on vacation, at meals if I have no companions, at night till I can hold my eyes open no longer. It fascinates and, perhaps, annoys, my husband; "Don't you ever just want to sit?" he asked one time, coming back to the car from a quick trip into the post office to find me with my head in a book.

I do other things, of course. I can watch old movies for hours, can spend all day in the kitchen conjuring up creative foodstuffs, can get happily messy planting a garden or attempting some craft. But books are the passion I return to day after day: when I finish one, if there isn't another waiting, I feel bereft, at loose ends. As with my choice of music, my taste in books is broad--although I have an admitted preference for happy endings and a strong aversion to gore. I choose books based on what I've heard or read about them, because I like the author's previous work, because the cover or title catches my eye, because the overview intrigues me, sometimes simply because the book is the "right" size (an inch to an inch-and-a-half thick, which means I can read it within a week) and the pages have lots of white space with appealing, easy to read type (though those selections must also have one of the previous attributes, as well!).

One of my greatest joys as a mother is that all three of my children love reading. I suppose I took that for granted until I realized at some point during my early carpool days that all children don't. What a sad discovery! I can understand how a child who struggles with language skills would find the act of reading a chore, but why on earth would a child who can read choose not to? Who would want to miss out on those glorious excursions of the mind? Just as I find people who think they hate poetry have simply never been exposed to enough of it, or had an unpleasant encounter with it, I suspect people who don't read--especially children--have suffered the same fate. What a tragedy to miss out on one of life's greatest pleasures--one that requires no work, no expense, no equipment, and no payback!

Okay, maybe some payback: as the new year starts, I encourage you to join me in taking every opportunity to celebrate and share the joy of reading. We've all heard stories about people whose lives have been changed because of reading a book; who knows what impact you could have on a child's life by introducing him/her to Charlotte's Web or The Little Engine That Could? And if reading doesn't bring you joy, I urge you to make an all-out effort to find it--in the pages of a novel, a memoir, a biography, a poetry book, or even a magazine. Join a book club, befriend a librarian, meet an author, do a search for "best books ever written," track down your high school English teacher, whatever it takes, because I promise you, it's worth it. Reading can take you places nothing else can and leave you with a feeling of satisfaction that nothing can take away...not even an election year.