I used to read a lot.
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.