Reading has been my salvation more often than I can say.
When I was growing up, you’d have been hard pressed to find me without a book. I read before I fell asleep, first thing when I woke up, on the bus, at the dinner table (when I could get away with it), at family gatherings, in the car, in class. I checked out more books than I could carry at the library; I snuck books from my sister’s and brother’s rooms; I borrowed books from relatives. When we traveled on family vacations, my side of the car always included a bag of books – a very large bag, too. I don’t know exactly why I read so voraciously. I loved the stories, obviously, but there was simply a compulsion to read.
Hindsight being what it is, I suppose I was escaping my square peg-ness between the pages of all those books. When I was reading, I fit into my own space. I was lost in another world and that world was so much more suited to me than the one I was inhabiting. That’s rather melodramatic, actually – and I don’t know how 18th century London or 19th century Virginia was exactly “more suited” to me – but that’s the best I can do.
I stopped reading as much in high school and college – my work load and social life took a big chunk out of my free time – but I still managed to read a little, mostly during the summers. I usually had a book with me when I went away for any length of time, and I usually read at night, before I went to sleep.
When I went to London, first for study abroad, then on a work visa, the first thing I did was sign up for a library card at the closest public library. That was my entertainment most evenings: free, engrossing, distracting. I didn’t have as much money as some of my fellow students; I didn’t manage to meet a guy to while away my evenings. So I read, a lot.
As an adult, I realize that I retreat to my bookshelves when things aren’t going so well in my actual life. I always have a book beside my bed and, often, one sitting on the coffee table but when I’m happy engrossed in something or someone, I only manage a few chapters a week at most. I suppose my life is entertaining enough at those times; I don’t want to escape it, I want to live it, so my books take a back seat. I’m still buying them, of course, and stacking them all over my house – in bookcases, on the floor, beside the sofa, beside the bed – perhaps because I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll need them again.
I started reading with the same greediness of my youth while I was on sabbatical. Part of it was the sheer relief of having time to indulge in reading something I wasn’t using in a paper. Part of it, I realize now, was because I could feel the sadness encroaching and I needed to escape it. Not exactly the healthiest approach, I suppose, but humans are rarely logical when it comes to their own lives. I kept it up over this last year, burning through books at night and on the weekends. I would pack several books anytime I got on a plane, often buying one or two more on the return trip because I was through with the others. I took six to London with me this summer, bought about nine more there, and only brought three home (one of which I finished on the plane) – in a month’s worth of travel.
So, I’m reading lots now, mostly mysteries and thrillers, a few historical fictions – nothing that requires a whole lot of intellectual stamina. I’m not happy, and that makes sense right now, but I can forget that if I’m engrossed in the words on the page. Once again, the books have come to my rescue, and I’m quite certain we will continue to be good friends in the years ahead of me.