Don't misunderstand, I read a lot, but mostly in the form of news articles, blogs, essays and other things online. But sitting down to read a book? A whole book? I'm honestly impressed with myself if I finish two or three in a year.
Never mind that when I do finish a book, most of the time it's non-fiction, my favorite being the kinds of books that get hyper-focused on one topic or item. Reading a fiction story, as much as I enjoy it, just doesn't happen that often.
It boils down to how I need to, want to and feel I should be using my time. Reading a book feels like a luxury, and one I can't always afford.
The benefits of reading fiction are numerous: increased emotional intelligence and empathy, reduces stress, improves vocabulary and writing skills. And yet, it falls low on my list of things I feel like I should/have to/get to do. I feel guilty reading a book instead of cleaning something, cooking something, making something, learning something, writing something, doing something. I feel selfish because I feel like reading a book, unlike reading a news article or sharing a blog, doesn't feel like it explicitly serves a greater benefit than my own.
|Yes, this drawing was re-purposed from a previous blog post|
A couple weeks ago, I did a little purge of my bookshelf (management books I'll never read from my days in executive education, five-year-old internet marketing books that are surely outdated, weightloss cookbooks I really don't care about anymore, empty journals I've had for years in which I will never write), and popped open my copy of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die to see what, if anything, it had to say about Monterey, Calif., for an intended short trip. Monterey is indeed a place to see before you die, and the two page spread detailed the aquarium, Clint Eastwood's ties, and included a reference to John Steinbeck's time there and his novel Cannery Row.
Cannery Row. I read the words and remembered picking up a copy in a discount book store in Berkeley with a friend (probably the person I know who reads the most books, and definitely the person who took me to get my library card when I moved here) who said she thought I'd really like it. I liked The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, and the book was short and cheap, so I bought it.
For someone who doesn't find the time to read books, I sure do buy a lot of them.
That Saturday night, I drew a bath and started reading. Somehow the water was still pleasant after an hour, and I had made it through a good chunk of the book. On Sunday, I picked up a croissant at the bakery around the corner and a cup of coffee, and sat down with the book for a bit longer, passing 100 of it's 196 pages. I set the book down to get to work on my weekend chores, and at one point thought to myself, "if I put away these boxes and take out this recycling and vacuum that carpet, then I can sit on the couch in the sunshine with my book and really enjoy myself." What motivation this turned out to be. Less than an hour later I was able to relish reading by the sunlight coming through my window, knocking out 50 or 60 more pages with a cat curled up next to my leg.
Monday morning I returned from a morning walk with 10 minutes to spare before I had to start getting ready for the day, so I read a few more pages. I came home from work, made dinner (it was a bowl of cereal), ate dinner, and suddenly had a cat in my lap and was ready to read more. I finished Cannery Row, and re-read the first paragraph. I was sad the book was over.
Every time I sat down to read, it felt like I was giving myself a present, a treat. This is what I mean when I describe the luxury of reading. Books are gifts and treats. They are nourishing, educating and enriching.
I think I'll read another.