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Reading and Vulnerability

I used to read a lot. I lived for library trips when I was growing up and would read almost anything I could get my hands on. I was lucky in that my mom was also an avid reader and had a good sense of what I would enjoy, so she would stretch me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise have picked up on my own. Then I went to college, and reading “good” books became a chore that it had never been before. I still enjoyed it immensely, but didn’t often do it on my own (at least, not during the school year). I was majoring in literature, though, so it’s not like I was starved for reading material. This continued through grad school, but there, again, I was studying literature, so I didn’t really notice. But I did notice that after I graduated, I had to train myself to enjoy unassigned reading again.

Unfortunately, I had just finished my re-training when I moved here and suddenly found that I couldn’t sit down and read. I was too stressed, lonely, and generally unsettled to concentrate on the flow of language, to let my mind wander into the prose and see the scenes presented to me, or to open myself up to feel what the characters were feeling. Reducing my strict control over my imagination made me vulnerable to too much that I wished not to think and feel in my daily life.

But now I look back over the last year and a half and realize that I’ve only made it through a handful of books since I moved. 11, to be exact, 6 of which were required by my participation in campus activities. I don’t think I’ve ever read so little in my life, and I’ve never read so little fiction (my preferred pleasure reading). I’ve heard many more books than that because I listen to books on tape whenever I’m in the car, which is a lot. But this is an entirely different kind of reading experience. I have to listen to books that don’t require complex thought because, well, I’m supposed be concentrating on the road, and I also have to stop listening whenever I arrive at my destination.

But now that I’m more stable, I’m trying to retrain myself. I’ve started playing with Library Thing (which I’ve been avoiding because I’d heard it was addictive…. which it is), and in doing so I’ve come across all the books I’ve read and loved, and all the books I expect to love when I get around to reading them. I’ve reacquainted myself with the smell of books, the feel of their paper, and the taste of the air around me when they are open in my lap. Now I just have to convince myself that I won’t fall apart if I let go and let my imagination play over intricate scenes and in and out of people’s lives.

I’ll probably have to start easy, with a fast-paced thriller or mystery. No sense in making this hard. And I’ll definitely have to persuade my cat that he really doesn’t have to continue with his habit of putting one fang neatly through the upper right-hand corner of each page as I read.

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  1. Kathryn Greenhill Kathryn Greenhill

    I hardly read fiction at all while I was studying at uni…unless, like you, it was prescribed for my course.

    Breastfeeding little ones really helped me start reading fiction again…there’s a limited time you can spend lovingly gazing at your baby….so it was that or daytime TV.

    I don’t know what you’re into, but if you want to slide from campus life in RL to a great book partly about campus life, you may want to try “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith. A ripping read and sooo smart too. If you’ve read EM Forster’s “Howard’s End”, you’ll enjoy it all the more.

    I don’t think it will make you feel too vulnerable… you’ll be too caught up. It’s a pretty soft landing once you get out of their world, too.

    Then again..maybe a few Agatha Chrsties might let you put your toe into the water..but I’d say..plunge in the deep end.

    Why not get your cat its own book it can chew on and let it enjoy fiction too.

  2. Iris Iris

    Oooh, “On Beauty” looks like it might be just the thing. Thanks for the tip.

    I’m afraid that if I let Pippin have his own book he’ll think he owns ALL books. He’s funny that way. He refuses to distinguish between the coffee table (which he’s allowed to walk on) and the kitchen table (which he’s not). As far as he’s concerned all flat surfaces belong to him (as do all fluffy surfaces, warm surfaces, and surfaces with a view). Luckily, I fall into the category of “warm surfaces” all the time, and occasionally I’m fluffy or provide a good view, so he’s been spending a lot of time on my lap lately. Of course, this gets in the way of typing, reading, and knitting. But I’m not complaining… too much. :)

  3. […] second fatal blow came when I moved away from my family. I was just too raw and vulnerable to open myself up to the fundamentally empathetic experience of […]

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