Once I was alone at someone’s house for an extended period of time with no book to read. That’s usually not a problem because I can raid a person’s bookshelf and find something else to peruse for a while. But this particular home had no bookshelf. No big deal: I started a more thorough search, from bathroom to bedroom, kitchen to living room. All I wanted was one book, a single book, to occupy my brain while passing the time. It could have been a cookbook, an architecture book, a trashy romance, a history book, or even an out-of-date magazine for all I cared; I just needed something to read. Much to my horror, there was not a single volume in that entire house.
It was a very strange experience for me, one that had never happened before. The first thing I realized is that I’m more of a compulsive reader than I knew. Not having access to a book made me feel frantic, panicky, and stressed. I cannot be without something to read. The second thing I realized is that some people just don’t live with books lying around. That stunned me, considering that I grew up among stacks of books that proliferated to the point of hiding furniture from view, and even turning into furniture when needed. “Books are your best friend,” Mom always said, and “Never go anywhere without a book.” Well, I certainly learned my lesson on that unforgettable night, with nothing to do but vegetate. It was supremely depressing.
Recently, I was shopping at a used book sale in my hometown when my old kindergarten teacher approached. “Stocking up on books to read once your kids have moved out?” she joked. “I imagine those two keep you too busy to get any reading done!” I smiled and looked at the stack of fascinating titles in my hand that would be devoured in no time. “Actually, you’d be surprised. I read a lot. I set myself a goal to read 52 books this year and I’m already at 35.” Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. To be honest, I don’t think she believed me.
How do I manage to read so much? Sometimes I wonder the same thing. There are days when I read nothing at all. Other days, all I do is read and everything else gets ignored. The key is knowing how to let go of other tasks. I probably have a much messier house than many of my friends but the trade-off is being lost in a fabulous story land. Books are portable for a reason, so I take them with me as I follow the kids around the house.
I make the most progress when they play in their sandbox. That’s where they are content to stay put the longest while I sit on a chair, coffee mug in hand, devouring my book. Sometimes I set up a train track in the living room and strategically place myself on the floor right beside it so I can intervene immediately in whatever squabbles occur. In summer, they play on the front porch and I sit in the rocking chair, pushing race cars back to the starting line with my toe. If the weather is hot, I plunk them in the outdoor bathtub and pull up a chair to read, threatening them with instant ejection if they dare splash me. My book gets carted upstairs and downstairs, outside and inside, more times daily than I can possibly count.
Evenings, of course, are when I read the most. The boys go to bed at 7 p.m. and, four times a week, Jason goes to the gym in the evenings. That leaves me all alone at home, revelling in the first true silence of the day, able to focus on entire pages and chapters without distraction. Not having a TV helps because there’s really nothing to do except read, unless I want to do housework, and the only time I do that in the evenings is if we’re expecting guests.
And so I race onwards, tearing through my personal challenge with faster speed and conviction than I ever expected to have. It helps to have a goal, but I also find the more I read, the more I can’t help but read. Books teach me many things, and the more I learn, the more I want to learn. Life wouldn’t be worth living without books. That’s how addicted I am.