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Friday, October 5, 2012

Permission to Read


A few nights ago over chicken cacciatore, salad, and home-made bread, a woman asked the rest of us when we found time to read. Only two of the eight women still worked, but all of us had numerous interests that took time and energy throughout the week. The question captured the attention of every one of us. We all love to read, and we all bemoan the lack of time for this activity. The solutions were many, and the best one was to give yourself time to read in the middle of the day, when you think you should be doing something else.

Long after the evening was over, I found myself still thinking about the idea of not having enough time. I love to read. I have loved to read since I was a small child, and this passion for books survived my parents' attempts to get me to read so-called worthwhile books, serious books, or anything else but what caught my fancy at the time. I was equally in love with fiction and nonfiction, and I was equally curious about what other people read. You would think that with such a long history of loving books and ideas and reading that I would always find time to read. Everything that I have said about myself could be said about the other women at the dinner table that evening. How is it that we choose to deprive ourselves of something that gives us enormous pleasure and is probably good for us too?

The trouble with reading in the middle of the day is it challenges the basic principle of a good Protestant upbringing--you should be doing something useful during the day, and into the evening too. Oh, those Puritans! They have a lot to answer for. Fortunately, reading has progressed from being a questionable activity that could corrupt undeveloped minds to being the experience by which minds are developed. And now entertained.

My husband and I lived in Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s. One of our favorite pastimes was dropping in at Whodunit Bookstore, which was as well known for its window displays of corpses and ghouls as it was for its wide selection of crime fiction. During our first visit the owner struck up a conversation on the kinds of books we liked, and the conversation continued with another customer. The customer and I shared likes and dislikes, interests and questions, and did what any self-respecting mystery readers do--shared recommendations for writers and their best titles. I have never found conversation more natural, more spontaneous, and more interesting than when I start talking to another reader in a mystery bookstore.

The eight of us at dinner on Monday evening moved quickly from finding time to read to what we were reading, sharing titles and likes and dislikes. Reading may be a solitary experience, one that is tucked into the hour before bed, the early morning while the bath is running, on the subway on the way to work, or during the lunch hour. Or it may be the luxury of a mid afternoon break from what we "should" be doing. But despite the solitary experience, reading is the key to community, to connecting to other people and other ways of thinking, to a way of growing beyond one's own personal experience.

We didn't answer the question of why we feel we shouldn't read in the middle of the day, but we did agree that we should give ourselves permission to do so. And that's what I'm going to do right now. On this rainy Thursday afternoon, I'm going to curl up with A Good American, by Alex George, and then start the next Kate Atkinson mystery. And through it all I will ignore the little voice inherited from my ancestors that hints that maybe, just maybe, I should be cleaning out the refrigerator or vacuuming or painting the hallway. I can read in the middle of the day.

Do you have a favorite time to read? Do you ever read in the middle of the day?


9 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I have to admit, I don't usually read in the middle of the day because there always seems to be work of some kind to do. I usually wind down in the evening with a good book though. However, when my husband and I travel, we listen to books on audio. I don't know if that counts. But we do enjoy sharing mystery fiction whenever we drive. You are right about the work ethic. It does seem as if reading is for pleasure and therefore an indulgence.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thanks for your comment, Jacquie. Our training about work and fun is hard to change. Whenever I read in the middle of the day, I can hear my grandmother or mother saying, Why are you inside on such a beautiful day? I should be working--outside.

susan furlong-bolliger said...

I think reading is a worthy way to spend any time of the day. The trick is just trying to fit it in. I always have two or three books going at time, which would drive some people crazy. For me, however, it’s the only way I can squeeze in my reading time. I keep my Kindle tucked in my purse for the times I’m stuck waiting in line or for an appointment. In the car I keep some sort of non-fiction book to pass time while I wait for the kids to come out of school. And, on my nightstand there’s always a mystery novel; although, I have to admit, I usually only get through a couple of pages before falling asleep!

Susan Oleksiw said...

I've always found it hard to read more than one book at a time because I'm so eager to keep reading the one story, but I too keep different books in different places just in case i'm caught having to wait--a book for the car, a book for waiting in coffee shops for friends, a book for the evening. But I can't seem to read in bed--I just fall asleep.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

I only find time for reading in the evening, but lately I find myself reading two books at a time, one by choice and another because I belong to a book club witha schedule. I also bring my kindle whenever I'm passenger in our car, and that is almost always because my husband is "the driver" by choice.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Unless I'm sick or on vacation, I seldom read in the middle of the day - that's when I work on my books. But at about 8 I head for the bedroom, plump up the pillows, turn on not one but two strong reading lights, and give in to temptation.

Leigh Neely said...

I love to have books to review because I can read during the day guilt-free! Actually I enjoy reading anytime. After all, it's research, right?

Patricia Stoltey said...

That's funny! I too have the feeling I'm doing something wrong when I sneak a middle of the day read...and I'm retired so I should be able to read anytime I'm in the mood. Maybe I need an attitude adjustment. :D

Elizabeth said...

I am still to busy during a weekday to read, except on Thursday afternoon
which is my afternoon off. "Off" means running errands, doing appointments
etc. So I do read then, usually the book that I keep in the car. Right now I
have BABY DOLL GAMES, Sigrid Harald #5 by Margaret Maron in the car. Our
town has 4 drawbridges and 2 train tracks. One is always guaranteed a
10 minute delay on any day. Sometimes on my way to work I have to wait for
the train, they wait to cross the bridge.

I keep 1 or 2 by my TV chair. Husband watches the TV, I read. This is in the
evening. I just finished TOMBS OF ENDEARMENT #3 Pepper Martin by Casey
Daniels. I also have out from the library the next , I guess last, 3 books in the
Sigrid Harald series. I will be sorry to see it end.

I like to have a few non-fiction handy too. I have DEARIE:THE REMARKABLE LIFE
OF JULIA CHILD now. Did someone on DL say that their husband authored
that book??