Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Truth About Me and Books

I grew up with a mom who spent every spare minute reading books. I mean, every spare minute. If you wanted to know where she was when she wasn't working tirelessly teaching, grading, cleaning or cooking, she would no doubt be in the living room, reading a book on the couch. It was inevitable that I too would learn to love reading.

My first memory of reading, though, is from my first day of kindergarten. I have no doubt that my parents read to me as an infant, but I'm one of those people that doesn't remember much before I was four. I picked out Barbapapa from the shelf of books on my first day of class. It was in french, so I didn't understand it at all, but I was shy and overwhelmed and the pictures were neat.

I kept reading.

In the summer between grades 1 and 2, my best friend Rachel found a new best friend, and I found myself at a loss. I started reading every chance I got. Morning recess. Lunch hour. Afternoon recess. By the end of grade 3, I was reading a chapter book a day and I got my first pair of glasses. I had friends, but the vast majority of them were fictional characters.

I kept reading.

In the summer before high school, my best friend at camp - the one I looked forward to seeing all year - was joined by her cousin. Her cousin took an instant dislike to me. She had a forceful personality, and made sure the everyone in our group of friends stopped talking to me. That was fun. So, instead of hanging out at the fort, making pie-irons and playing flashlight tag, I hung out with my younger cousin and spent countless hours by the campfire or at the beach reading books. I packed more books than I did clothes. I took out books from the library by the truckload.

I kept reading.

Fast forward many years, and, while I don't spend every spare minute reading like my mother, I do when the book is especially good. I can't bear to not have a book on the go. When I am within one hundred pages of finishing a book, I must have one lined up to read next. Preferably bought and waiting on my shelf for the second I finish the one I am currently reading. I get stressed out if I don't.

I keep reading. I am always reading. I didn't realize, though, until today what it means when I start reading voraciously - as I have been doing recently. I finished The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. I can't believe that I haven't read anything by her before now. I have a penchant for historical fiction, you see, because it marries my love of reading with my love of the stage. What is historical fiction except taking cold, hard facts and building an interesting, living, breathing story out of it? Preparing a character is the same thing.

When I started reading the book, it was like coming home. I've been reading for my book club recently, and while the novels have been absolutely interesting and exciting, they are not necessarily books I would choose for myself. Which is a good thing. It's like going abroad on vacation. I love to do that more than anything, but I don't want to live there. I wanted to live in Weir's book. It felt so comfortable, so exactly right. It was all I could do not to run out during naptime (they frown on leaving small children alone, don't they..?) and buy Innocent Traitor (a fictional account of Lady Jane Grey), and Elizabeth the Queen (to see how her non-fiction novel compares to her fictional account of the queen's early years).

I was puzzled as to why, though. I had Little Bee all lined up to read next. Why would I feel such a strong need to keep reading Weir's books? Yes, The Lady Elizabeth was excellent, but I've heard much about Little Bee, and was excited to read it. Why the sudden change of heart? That, in turn, got me thinking about my sudden upsurge in reading time lately.

I came to this conclusion. I read insatiably, unstoppably when I am feeling lonely. I am loving being at home with the kids, but despite never being "alone", it is kind of...lonely. I see my kids, I see my husband, and that's the vast majority of time. I'm not finding the moms around here at the drop-in centres or in the parks to be very friendly at all. The nannies are a clique unto themselves. The moms that I am friends with are either back at work, or clear across the city, so playdates are not nearly frequent enough. Add to that doctor appointments, sickness, and preschool conflicts, and setting up get-togethers is a complicated dance of duelling calendars.

Books are always there, though, and always accessible - even when friends are not. I lean on them far too heavily when I am feeling sorry for myself. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, excepting that literature should be a pleasure, not a dependance.

Thank goodness for blooming spring hope and bloggy love. Maybe they can help me out of this funk I am in.


painted maypole said...

as long as you're actually READING all those books, and not trying to decode a message from aliens through the dewey decimal system on the library books

Beck said...

Ouch! I read zillions of books, too - but I'm hurting for you reading about how lonely you are. Some communities become REALLY hard to find a social footing in, for whatever reason.
You know what you need to do? You need to call your back to work friends and ask them to set you up with a likely friend candidate - just like dating! I've done that and I've made some nice friends that way.

Mac and Cheese said...

It's better than doing drugs? I feel the same way, a lot, although I'm never ambitious enough to pick up a book or anything.

Kyla said...

I get into reading ruts, only one type of book or one type of author will do. If I buy a next book prematurely, chances are it will go unread, because something about my current one has pulled me in and made me seek out another very much like it.

I'm so sorry you are lonely. It can be really isolating to be home with the kids and it can be super hard to make plans!

Anonymous said...

Reading is sometimes better than sex. There I've said it. Maybe I'm the one who's really lonely.

Will be checking out Weir's books; love historical fiction!

Mimi said...

I read like you, and for what transpires are the same reasons. I totally get your lonelines--I guess that's why I read so much on my leave, when I was home and isolated. Books: constant companions.

Major Bedhead said...

I love Alison Weir. I have far too many of her books and they're all good, fiction and non-fiction alike.

If you like historical fiction, try The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George. It's weighty but really good.

And I hear you on the being lonely thing. I think that's why I'm on Twitter so often. I can only talk to toddlers for so long before I start to go a little nutty. I'd read more often because, like you, I inhale books, but I can't concentrate with the kids running around and by the time they go to bed, I'm too wiped to understand what's on the page. I need to make more of an effort, though, because my love affair with books has been the one constant in my life.

Mad said...

I think I totally overdosed on blogging way back in the day b/c it combined my two favourite things: the promise of female friendship and reading.

I am currently hooked on books again in one of those voracious cycles. I think I'm lonely too but, for now, the companionship I am seeking is of the fictional variety so it suits me fine.

I wish that were the case for you. Damn those Nannies. It _is_ hard meeting kindred souls when you have young children in tow.

Anonymous said...

this makes me sad.. and yet i recognize myself.

bren j. said...

I hear you about being lonely. If it weren't for Facebook and blogs, I would probably have succumbed to some horrid depression a couple years ago. Reading truly is an escape - though one I don't find I have a lot of time for just now.

Are there any playgroups or anything around your area? I imagine you already take advantage of library story times for the boys....swimming lessons? T-ball? Moving? ;) Just kidding.

Jaina said...

I need to make more time to read. I LOVE reading and have been sadly ignoring it for far too long. I really loved this post, thank you so much for sharing this story with us.

Susanne said...

I am quite the same with the incessant reading, the need for glasses, and the loneliness. These days I'm reading more things on the internet but still the books are around, and I always have a book or two waiting to be read. I also love re-reading old favorites.

I smiled a bit when I read the commenter before me, "I have to make more time to read." I don't think that's the kind of reading that you are writing about, the kind of reading you are writing about is the one where you have to struggle to make time for everything else.

I just realized how voracious my reading is when I told my husband it took me 120 pages to get into the book I'm reading. I suddenly realized that most people wouldn't have made it that far.

kittenpie said...

have you read Margaret George? She's good hist fic as well, though thick, thick books. I could lend you a couple, if you like.

And we have to stop saying we'll get together and just do it, dammit, now that I'm more mobile and the weather is better!