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?