This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Reading for Pleasure

            Waiting for someone at Starbucks a few weeks ago, I ran into someone else I wasn’t waiting for — in this case a woman who lives at the end of our road with her husband and three daughters. We’ve known each other for years, mostly on a wave-or-stop-and-chat-for-a-few-minutes basis.
            It had been a while since I last talked with her, and when she got out of her car, she came straight over to me to let me know she’d bought my mystery novel The McHenry Inheritance and enjoyed it. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, but what she said next really hit me.
            “I think that’s probably the first novel I’ve read in more than 20 years,” she said, “and it reminded me how much fun it is. When I was a kid, we used to go to the library a couple of times a month and check out a big box full of books and bring them home to read. I really used to love that, but with a job and a family, I just haven’t had the time. Reading your book made me want to go out and read more.”

Lost Pleasures of Childhood

            Her comment brought back some memories for me. I remember my mother taking us to the Pasadena Public Library on Walnut Street between Fair Oaks and Los Robles to get books, especially during the summer when school was out. I’d check out a half dozen at a time and finish them in a week to ten days. The reading habit has stayed with me through adulthood, perhaps because of the business I was in (journalism), but I can see how it easily could have slipped away.
            Considering all the things to do now, it’s amazing that anyone reads. It’s something for which you have to carve out a block of time (unless you’re an exceptional multi-tasker), and significant blocks of time are hard to come by. It’s harder yet when you’re getting home late from music lessons or Little League practice. And it’s so easy to turn on the TV and take in the shows passively.
            My approach to getting reading done is to schedule it for weekends. When I don’t have to go to work, I can pretty easily finish a book in two days, and do it around the errands and other obligations I have.

Long Plane Flights and Lazy Days

            By far the best reading situation, though, is a long trip to a place with not much to do. If I’m going to New York, London, Paris or Venice, there will be little reading done except in planes and airports.
            But I’ve had some great reading vacations in Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, Hilton Head and Baja California. Those are trips where there’s enough time and leisure to read that 800-pager you haven’t gotten around to yet. Reading several books on a trip like that is almost like being nine years old and in the Pasadena Public Library again.
            Recovering from a surgery is a great opportunity to get in some serious reading, but I’m in no hurry to go under the knife again. Still, if it hadn’t been for that hernia operation in 1979, I probably would never have found the time for George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
            As a writer, I have a deep respect for those who read regularly and wish there were more of them. My great fear is that with so many people writing books and so few reading them, every author will eventually wind up with a personal reader, sort of like a personal trainer, and not much more. The good news is I probably won’t live long enough to see it.