Saturday, October 18, 2008


When I was young I used to love to go to the library with my sister L and a neighborhood friend P. We would go on Saturday mornings, and we'd each take out a stack of books. I'm not exaggerating. We'd go home and devour them, and we'd do it all over the next week. Whenever possible, if we could scrap together a few dollars, we'd go to Friendly's afterward, for Fribbles and fries--our first experiences with the unique ability of alternating sweet and salty to lift the spirits as it calms a raging sea of hormones. But that's another entry.

We indulged our love of reading before school distracted us from it.

I know that sounds antithetical, but it's the truth. We were all good students, honors students, tracked through rigorous courses with plenty of required reading, which didn't leave much time for pleasure reading. Unfortunately, the required reading--Thoreau and Shakespeare--wasn't much fun for teenagers and, sadly, didn't leave us thirsting for more.

And so I didn't pick up a book to read for pleasure again for years--until January of my senior year of college.

I'd like to think I read again because I had a mature, lucid moment, during which I took stock and wondered what I would do with myself after I graduated, when I would no longer have to read text books and science journals, write papers and study for exams. Honestly, it is more likely that a dorm mate asked if I had read a certain best seller of the time and I felt inadequate as I reported, "no I haven't read that," while vowing to myself that I would. I'm not certain. But I remember the book. Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather, whose My Antonia I had read by my own choosing and liked when I was young and whose short story "Neighbor Rosicky" I enjoyed in sophomore English. The day I read it I remember like it was yesterday.

One snowy January day I made a conscious decision to skip class and read. I was senior at Simmons College, with a coveted senior single on Brookline Avenue in Boston, almost directly across the street from a giant spruce near the entrance of Emmanuel College. I brewed a pot of coffee, then pulled up a chair to the window. I took with me to the window the book, a cup of coffee and a pastel afgan that my aunt crocheted. I alternately watched the snow fall on the spruce and the city street below, and read the book. The entire book. When I put it down I knew that I would read more when I finished my senior research and graduated, and I have. In fact, once a year, usually in summer though, I devote a day to reading an entire book: my homage to that day I rediscovered my love of reading.

I don't remember when L got back into reading, but know that she does read again. Voraciously. If she were paid to read she'd be a millionaire. It's her respite. After my niece and nephew--and her husband--are asleep, she sits and reads in a quiet house. We share suggestions and books. More importantly, we share again a love for reading.

I see P on occasion but, when we run into each other, our conversation doesn't turn to pleasure reading. But I hope that, like L, she finds some evening peace and solace in the pages of a book when the dishes are done and her girls are in bed. I hope that she, like L and I, has reignited her love of reading and has been around the world through books; has met friends who have made her laugh and cry, heroes that inspire her, and underdogs for whom she has cheered. I hope that reading has affirmed her strength as a woman and humbled her as a human. More than anything, I simply hope that she reads.

When I am feeling particularly ambitious, I wish for a world in which people--children and adults alike--despite technology, continue to take pleasure in holding a book in their hands, in feeling the paper between their fingertips and smelling paper as they turn the pages.

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