I used to read an extraordinary amount. When I was a child, I would always ask for several books for Christmas, and my mother would always oblige and wrap a tall stack of books for me to find under the tree. She did this, buying me a pile of books, knowing that I would immediately root myself onto the couch and plow through the whole stack within days. She remarked on this again when I made an offhand comment about how my son comes home from school and immediately picks back up on reading the book he’d been reading before leaving for school in the morning. I have always been very strict about tv time, he is *only* allowed to watch anything on the weekends and even then it’s one movie’s worth of time per day, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If he wakes up before us on the weekend, he’ll curl up on the couch with a book or two and, whenever we take him to get new books, he finishes them within hours. He’s currently eight years old but, like both myself and my husband, he’s years ahead in his reading level. I’ve always found the contrast between myself and my husband to be interesting – I read at a lightning speed (which my son seems to have inherited) and I generally read fiction or sci-fi. Husband reads much slower, but he prefers reading biographies, music and pop culture theory, and economics. I’m curious to see which way The Kid will go when he gets older.
In my younger adult years, I still read voraciously. I loved reading books by philosophers, foreign authors, books about the human condition and relationships. I would get irritated with people I dated who wouldn’t give me time and space to read. I had one particular boyfriend with whom I had plenty of opportunity to read and we would sit across from each other in cafés and restaurants over brunch, silently staring into our respective pages as we sipped our coffee and shoveled bites of crêpes into our mouths, pausing only to share whatever erudite little tidbit we’d come across. (It seems strange to me now, the idea that I would spend so much time with someone with my nose buried in a book over meals and coffee, but those were the only quiet moments, I suppose, in what was otherwise a tumultuous relationship. Reading was a salve, of sorts.)
At some point, before I met Husband, I became too tired to read. When I left Prague and returned to Pennsylvania, I also returned to a hellish commute that left me drained. I used to read on buses and trams and trains but then I had to keep my eyes on the road. I drove an hour to work in the morning (stopping for giant, sugary Starbucks coffee drinks and inhaling four cigarettes along the way – if you know me now, this little tidbit is a riot) and an hour and a half home with the rush hour traffic. It was always dark by the time I returned to my parents’ house and though it probably would have been the best thing for me, it reading was the last thing I wanted to do. If I’m honest, I wasn’t just too tired to read, I was depressed and reeling from certain from years’ worth of events and the things that I liked to read felt like wallowing. I was desperate for distractions, not reminders.
Then I met Husband and there was no time for reading in the brief whirlwind that occurred in Pennsylvania before we moved to Los Angeles a couple of months later. I read some, but not my usual amount… but then The Kid happened. And, as many people with kids will tell you, reading becomes one of those things that falls by the wayside. Yet another strange thing happened – because I was so limited on time to read, I became fussy. Fussier than I have ever been in regard to books (and movies, quite frankly.) I also went through a spell where I was reading some pretty heavy stuff that even *I* could not finish with my usual speed. (By “heavy stuff”, I mean I was reading huge tomes of the history of communism and politics in China, books on neurobiology, European history, biographies of Henry VIII’s wives… )
AND THEN, I went back to school. If you think it’s hard to leisure-read when you have a kid/kids, try going back to school.
I’ve read a lot over the past few years but most of it was for classes. (Fortunately, in one of my favorite classes, I had to read an entire book that I loved and became one of the foundational pieces for my senior thesis – China Mieville’s City and the City.) In the past couple of years at UW, I have repeatedly tried to set a rule for myself that I was *only* allowed to do leisure reading during the bus commute. That worked for a day – then there were tests to study for, Arabic vocab to lock down, and bus time was valuable study time. When I realized there was no way in hell that I would be anywhere near fluent in Arabic after two years, I made a practical switch to return to second-year Spanish and begin French in earnest. I had obsessively been running through Spanish and French lessons on Memrise and Duolingo during the commute but this, my last quarter at UW, I’ve realized that my grades and GPA are safe and I don’t at all *need* that extra studying. (Besides, if I’m honest… I’m quite good with languages and don’t need to put in much effort to learn.) So I’ve once again recommitted to the idea of “leisure reading” during my commute. (This does include, however, the French and Spanish novels that I’m slowly making my way through.)
All of this rambling is to say that I have slowly been making my way back to being a voracious reader and it feels AMAZING. I’m still fussy, but I’m getting quicker at lining up books that will hold my interest. I’ve managed to polish off two books in the last week (both by Rachel Cusk) in addition to a few more pages of the French & Spanish books that I’ve begun. It’s come to my attention that reading is the lynchpin to my overall ability to enjoy what is commonly referred to as “free time.” Or, as I’ve said during Spanish class introductions, «¿Qué es este ‘tiempo libre’ de que hablas? No tengo nada tiempo libre.» This isn’t really true, I have “lots” of time that one could call “free”, I just manage it extraordinarily badly. For some reason, even though I find it difficult to put a book down once I’m into it, a good book is so inspiring and motivates me to manage all the other tasks I need to accomplish. (It seems easier and more satisfying to put a book down and look forward to getting back to it where, once I open up my laptop, I just fall into a black hole of wasted time and useless browsing.)
I am cautiously hopeful (though history tells me otherwise), that I may get back to “blogging” regularly again, particularly about languages and books. I will have finished my B.A at UW come June and intend to begin an Editing certificate (in addition to Localization later) in the Fall and I’m eager to apply these skills to this little hobby that I’ve never been quite able to let go of!