As I wrote last week, I spent my vacation traveling through South Florida with my family, rushing from sight to sight and gradually working myself into a state of total exhaustion.
So it might come as a surprise to hear that I managed to find time to read four books during my holiday break. When I ran out of books, I caught up on back issues of The New Yorker.
Having time to read, which I found during car rides and layovers, in my hotel before I fell asleep and just sitting around waiting for my family to gather, was one of the best parts of the trip. But it feels weird to say so. We saw and did so many interesting things — am I really going to sit here and tell people that I enjoyed reading almost as much as seeing miniature deer and dolphins? I mean, I can read at home.
When I’m on vacation, I read voraciously. I lugged the 1,000-page “Infinite Jest” to Costa Rica because it was a two-week trip, and I figured I’d make a lot more progress than if I simply waited until I was home to read it. And I did. I went out to the porch every afternoon, and read until dinner. I brought “The Grapes of Wrath” to Maine one year, and when someone pointed out that it wasn’t much of a beach book, I shrugged. I can get a lot of reading done at the beach. Why waste my time on beach books?
And because I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a book and moving on to another, I always vow to maintain this voracious pace long after my vacation is over. “Why don’t I read this much when I’m home?” I always wonder. “Reading’s great!”
I’ve always been a reader. I was fortunate to grow up in a house filled with books, and so I have no memories of discovering my love of reading, as it was always a part of my life. I’m aware that there are people who don’t enjoy reading, or who never made a habit of it.
There might be different reasons for this, of course. I once wrote an article about a program in Birmingham, Ala., that was designed to teach low-income women about the importance of reading with their children; attendees were given free children’s books to take home to their kids.
And a reading teacher friend recently shattered a long-held childhood illusion when she informed me that sustained silent reading, where children read silently for a designated time period every day at school, is actually a terrible idea. “What?” I yelled. “I loved SSR! It was my favorite part of school!” “I know,” my reading teacher friend said. “I loved it, too. Kids who know how to read love it. But the kids who don’t know how to read? They just sit there and stare at the pages. They’re quiet and well-behaved. But they don’t read.”
Last week I interviewed Jeff Sharlet, a 1990 Scotia-Glenville graduate, journalist and author of the best-selling book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” for an article running next week in The Sunday Gazette. (“The Family” is one of the books I read during my travels, in preparation for my interview with Sharlet.) When I asked Sharlet whether he’d always wanted to be a writer, he said yes, and then spoke of his love for the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady. “My dream job would be to buy the bookstore, and own that,” he said.
This made perfect sense to me, because when I was a kid I wanted to be able to read for a living, and was always wishing someone would come up with a way to make reading useful — to figure out how to harness the brain waves of readers to produce renewable electricity, or something. I dreamed of becoming a librarian, or owning a bookstore, until I realized that librarians spend a lot of time filing stuff and helping people find things, and that bookstore owners spend a lot of time dealing with customers. And so I became a journalist, which isn’t nearly as much fun as reading, although I do get to read newspapers as part of my job, which is kind of nice.
I can’t think of anything better than being surrounded by books, and I try to make sure that at any given moment I have at least 30 unread books lying around my apartment. I never throw books away, or sell them. My thinking is that I might need them someday — my old copy of “The Velveteen Rabbit” occasionally comes in handy, as does Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” — but also that they keep me company.
I’m not the only person who feels this way about books.
A couple of years ago, when I was doing research for an article on personality testing in the workplace, I ran across a blog post by Urban Semiotic’s David W. Boles, who shares my personality type as described by the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, one of the better-known personality assessments.
People with our personality type, he explained, “are information hounds. We must know. We must always be learning and researching something new. I have 27 magazine subscriptions and my Post Office Letter Carrier is not happy lugging all that paper my way every week. I have 1,200 books in my bedroom alone. I read 12 online newspapers every morning. My books are my friends. I mark them up. I dog-ear them. I write all over them. Books are tools that are friends. I listen to the TV, radio, my CD player and surf the Web all at the same time. It drives people nuts! . . . Please don’t complain about wasting electricity or needing more room for your clothes in the bedroom. There are newscasts to memorize and friends that need shelves!”
When I returned from my trip, I was determined to plow through Susan Orleans’ 2000 book “The Orchid Thief,” which I decided to read because it’s set in the swamps of South Florida, as quickly as possible. It’s not a very long book, and if I were on vacation it would probably take me a day or two to read. But, alas, I’m not on vacation anymore.
When I get home from work, I’m tired. I read a little, and then, when I start to nod off, I put in a movie or catch up with friends on the phone. Reading is something I can do anywhere, I guess. But for some reason it’s easier to find the time and energy when I’m on vacation.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.