Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Dinner Table Thing

I used to read a lot.

Golly, I used to read a lot. I couldn't be bothered to show up to the dinner table unless I had at least three books under my arm--the one I was halfway through, the other one I was halfway through, and the next one in case those two weren't enough in the eleven minutes it took to hold my nose and gulp down the steamed squash pinched from the watery vegetable dish that I had to finish before I could leave the table. Sometimes the eleven minutes would pass and I'd sit there for an hour or more with one edge of my barstool bumped up against the counter and the squash or salad or whatever it was growing slimy and cold on my plate.
Reading was the background, the wallpaper of everything I did growing up. I pined for books in the car at night when it was dark and I wasn't allowed to turn my reading light on for my parents' fear of lower quality night driving vision. I read them at intermission in plays. I spent entire vacations in a house on the beach filled with rambunctious cousins reading paperbacks I had brought, and then reading all the paperbacks they had brought, too. At the end of A Wrinkle In Time, I cried for days. When I came upon A Girl of the Limberlost in sixth grade, I checked it out weekly until I had practically memorized it.  I finished Les Miserables, unabridged, 1800 pages, in the middle of a peer tutoring class in eighth grade and slumped over with the weight of it, both front and back covers of the cheap Penguin copy having been replaced with packing tape. I bought Harry Potter 7 at midnight, barefoot, in a Wal-Mart, and was still awake, nauseated with sleepiness, by 4:30 AM, playing the just-one-more-sentence game. I took A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and East of Eden in as my own, MY books, respectively, and hoarded three or four copies of both. When I'd meet a person, a new person, anywhere--rehearsal for a play, a new class, work, anywhere--I would automatically relate them to somebody I knew in a book. Contrary to popular belief, I was incredibly and still am incredibly shy. I would much rather watch you than talk to you, most of the time. No offense. Really I'd rather just read about you. I still really, really, really, really love you. I just know much better how to interpret dialogue than to participate in it.

The dinner table thing kept happening until I was about eighteen, when my grandmother looked across her water-repellent tablecloth at me and said, "Hey, Julie, you're eighteen. Stop." And I thought, "Ohhhh, this is going to suck" as if something hadn't clicked until then, as if I hadn't realized that I was a big Grownup who wasn't supposed to be reading teen historical fiction over my baked potato and ham. I put my book down, painfully, and spent the next few weeks trying rather pathetically to learn to eat without reading, which was hilariously unfun. Chewing only came naturally with the flipping of pages. Conversation-while-eating was a whole nother awful thing to learn. Do you know how many conversations you can read in the time it takes you to actually have one?

So, I stopped reading at the table. And then there was college. And then I kind of stopped reading altogether.
I was still reading 500 pages a week--I'm an English major, after all--but all the smelling and touching and feeling and seeing went out of it. Suddenly I wasn't reading the books I was still checking out of the city library. Suddenly I was required to remember not what I had read, but the exact words, and the "syntax" and the "cultural significance", and page numbers, and "themes", and I was so angry, so angry that I couldn't seem to absorb the life of books the way I had used to. I got over it, eventually, the disconnect I felt from my old world. I still enjoyed things occasionally. The Member of the Wedding hit me hard my sophomore year, and Possession and The Things They Carried had me lying in bed until 12:30 on a rainy fall Sunday crying over the both of them. But otherwise, I was racing through books, scratching quick, indecipherable (even by me) notes in the margins, and trying to think in a flash to make the most insightful comment about them every fifty-minute class period. And the worst part was, I never went back and read any of them again. I forgot a lot of them. Left them, embarrassed, on my bookshelf, to collect dust. Reading's been a pain for years.

This weekend, I was in San Diego. I almost missed my flight there and as a result had nothing to do on the 1.5 hour long plane ride, other than write a letter to Financial Aid and read through two hyper-depressive plays that I'd chucked optimistically into my bag. Both had already been read, quick, for my English 495 class. I got it. I got the themes. Got it. Done. Done with them, no rereading, what was I thinking. Window seat. Clouds. Boots. Hungry. I looked at the two sleeping married guys next to me, out my window, drummed my fingers on the back of my other hand, mangled a pen with my teeth, drank a ginger ale, wrote a list on the back of a study sheet, and considered pulling out some of my own hair and braiding it. Thought about turning my phone on to see if it would crash the plane. Finally I gave in to staring into the distance, boring my eyes into the blue vinyl seat in front of me.

And then I felt a familiar tickle. A rusty tickle, but a familiar one.
I just wanted to read. Read about somebody. Read something with colors on the cover, with pages that made my hands too dry. Read something that snapped me out of my life into someone else's for a while. When was the last time I read something without thinking about the stale mint gum smell wafting from my school bag or the kid sitting next to me or the class I was teaching in an hour? Why hadn't I bought an $18 book at the airport? Why hadn't I bought a book lately. Wait, when was the last time I bought a book? I had bought several at a campus booksale three months before, but had removed them from their shopping bag and robotically placed them onto my bookshelf. One was about the Yellow Fever, and one was about..what was it...someone named Calpurnia or something? Carolinia? The cover was yellow. Before that, what was the last thing I read and liked? I shook my head. Oh, I disgust myself. So many blogs. When did I start watching so much TV? I don't even take a book to school anymore? I have fruit ninja on my phone?  I saw three previews for movies based on books last trip to the movie theater, none of which I've read? The last eleven books I've finished were for a class? Falling asleep after surfing the internet for hours? Pictures of patriotic pinwheels and puppies on Pinterest have become more interesting to my feebled mind than even a basic essay or two? What happened to Francie, to Cal and Aron, to Cosette and Meg and Charles Wallace and Frankie and Maud and Roland and Elnora, for crying out loud?! To PHILIP?!

I smiled stupidly at my bewildered seatmate. "I need to buy a book," I said to him. He continued sleeping.

Needless to say, a trip was taken to a seedy Barnes and Noble just before departure, on Monday, on Halloween, and a book was boughten, and I spent my flight home with a pile of airport candy, an entire row to myself, and an entire book.


Marcindra LaPriel said...

Don't leave me hanging! What book did you buy?

I know that's not the point of this post, but I'm still curious to know.

I hear you about reading. Actually, I've never been all that absorbed into reading. I've always enjoyed it, but never obsessed with it...well, except for Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Spying on Miss Mueller, and....okay, fine. Yes, I obsessed over a lot of them. But since graduation, my reading has drastically picked up and it ROCK,S.

Moral of the story: graduate and read for the rest of your life

KIKA said...

Oh gosh Julie! how wonderful this post is. I've been in the same boat lately. I mean hello, I'm surfing blogs at 3 in the morning. When did that happen? haha

brooke said...

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is my favorite book ever.

And yours is my favorite blog ever.
(That's real. And since you're a blog crazy too, I think you know a bit of the impact of that statement.)

Regan Gull said...

I love your blog. Love, love, love it. I'm an English Education major and I feel your pain. The other day I realized the book I was reading was actually enjoyable. But it had taken me 250 pages to realize; I had been to busy underlining and preparing comments. Bleh.

I vacuumed up a sock once because I was reading Bridge to Terabithia while doing my chores. I want those days back.

IngridLola said...

I'm obsessed with the post. I love your writing, Julie. You need to update your blog more!!!

Bill said...

I honestly can't remember how I came across your blog. I think we have a mutual friend somewhere (which one I can't remember), and I randomly clicked a link on their blog several months ago which led me here.

However I got here, though, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated this post. As I read your post, I felt like it was reading me back, if that makes any sense. I went through this exact same phase about three or four years ago. I remembered the point at which I realized that I had burned out on reading and just how much that thought terrified me, because of how much reading had been a part of my deepest core self. But yes, that realization that the itch is back? Best feeling in the world. :) Thank you for this post.

Brittany said...

Juuuuliiiiiie. All I can really say is me too--me toooo. I read like a wild thing when I was little and I hated BYU so much for stuffing all the pages down my throat. I hated that I started buying magazines and reading blogs too.

I tell you what, being graduated and learning how to read (really really read) again is the hardest best thing I've done.

Just beautiful. And I love all those books of yours.

kaylie jean. said...

Yes woman. Yes. Yes. YES.


yes. YES.

whew. yes.

oh. i love you.

Chase said...

so hey [he quietly says], I was one of those guys sitting at the edge of the table while Gloria talked about Af Am lit, and along the way I found your blog. It was great to read your piece tonight, especially what you wrote about meeting new people, relating them to someone known through a book. I'll probably start doing that now. won't be able to help myself.

thanks for loving books, and sharing it

Anna said...

Thanks for the post Julie. You write so beautifully. I couldn't help but wonder which character, in which book you related me to. We've known each other for so long, but I never would have said you were shy. I feel the same way, I'd rather sit and watch/listen to a conversation. You are amazing. I'm glad you were finally able to sit down and read a book. College makes that hard.

Reading Rambo said...

This. is. fantastic. You are awesome. The end.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Followed a link here from the blue bookcase and now i'm following you. i enjoyed reading this post muchly.

Today's Gift said...

Is the title of your blog from the movie "What's up, Doc?"

alayne said...

Love this.
I went through a similar phase in college - not because I was reading pages for an English major, but because I had to read textbook after textbook.
When I finally rediscovered reading, it was like I came home.
You express it so much more poetically though. Love you!

Sarah Russo said...

I love your blog. I read it all the time. You are wonderful and I love you. That's pretty much sums it up

Anonymous said...

soo.... which book did you get!?!?