I'm almost finished reading (listening to, actually) a fabulous book called "Beautiful Boy," a true story of a father watching his son deal with a meth addiction. It is riveting to watch this boy's life implode while his parents ask themselves what more they could possibly do to save his life. The pain his parents feel is so powerful, and I have spent many hours while listening to this book picturing my children in their son's place. The boy was only 12 when he first tried pot. It's a terrifying thought.
I love the adventures that books provide. I love not knowing where the story is going to take you, not knowing where your heart is going to end up when you attach it to a character and follow him around, feeling what he does. I love exploring the choices that other people make - having the wonderful ability to disagree with every move the character makes, then having to see the results of those choices, but not having to live with it myself. It's like getting to live extra lives without the burden of really living them, or of any metaphysical reincarnation stuff. I can only imagine that being reincarnated would be a time-consuming way to experience more of life. Book are the cliff's notes version.
I've always been a reader. My earliest reading memory would be The Bath Book, where I infamously (in my family at least) misread "Otter" and the story became: "Elders don't take baths in water, they just play and fish there." I was the nerd on the playground that would rather read than play. I remember sitting on top of a piece of equipment reading Bridge to Terabithia, one of my favorite books of my childhood. My dad was no help in the "how to be a reader but still be cool" department. He would bring a paperback book with him to Wet 'N Wild, a Florida waterpark, read while standing in line, then leave the book at the bottom of the stairs and pick it up when he came off the slide. To this day that sounds like a genius plan if I ever heard one, but registers on the "things that could get you beat up" scale.
No, reading did not make me cool, but I had friends and wasn't a complete loser. Being an adult means that I finally, finally, am not judged by my skill (or lack thereof) in gym class, and being a reader is an asset, not a liability. Sadly, though, being an adult means that there is not nearly as much time to read. I have to do all those adulty things, like paying bills, and doing laundry, and scrubbing the bathtub.
About four years ago, my dad introduced me to audiobooks, which is how us nerds can take something ubercool like an ipod and reduce it to nothing more than a convenient book-carrier. Not to sound melodramatic, but audiobooks have changed my life. I no longer have to decide whether we are going to have clean clothes to wear or if I'm going to polish off a novel - now I could do both! I love that I can multi-task, do the horrible, boring things that make the label "housewife" strike such dread in my heart, but still listen to a great novel, or biography, or history book, or whatever happens to be on my ipod that day. I love the efficiency of the whole thing so much that I've all but stopped reading books on paper (analog, my brother Drew calls them). For years now, my books have all been audio, and my reading has been in conjunction with accomplishing household tasks.
Yesterday, I happened to stumble across the perfect storm of reading opportunities. Ryan was in bed, sick with what might be the Parisian Death Virus starting a second round, so I led the boys in our Saturday morning cleaning ritual. On my way to the baptism of our next-door neighbor Ashley, another neighbor returned "The Host" by Stephenie Meyer, a book on paper that I had bought but hadn't found time to read yet. When we got home, with the boys outside playing and Darcey and Ryan down for naps, I sat on the couch for the first time in ages and read a book.
It was like giving a dying man in the desert a long drink of water. If the man didn't know how thirsty he was. Okay, better analogy: it was like breathing again after holding your breath for a really long time. No, this is the best one: It's like eating a fantastic meal after sticking to a diet for years. I've been on an all-audio diet, which was certainly healthier than regular books, but ends up being all salads and bran muffins, with the occasional low-fat brownie thrown in. Reading this book was a plate of fettucine alfredo with french fries on the side and a pint of Haagen-Dazs for dessert. Nothing at all healthy about it, but man, did it taste good going down.
I forgot how a book can so completely overwhelm the senses when you are sitting on a couch in a quiet house and focusing only on the story. The story knocked me off my feet like a rogue wave when I had my back turned to the water. I didn't see it coming. I sat in my living room, thinking I'd read a little bit and then get dinner ready, but before I knew it I was 100 pages in and ordering pizza. Then Darcey woke up and I sat outside reading while she crawled around the front yard. At the 200 page mark I took her inside and let her play in the tub while I sat on the floor of the bathroom and read. When Darcey and Zack were down, it was easy enough to let Brad and Noah play outside up until bedtime, and when they finally came in, they thought I was so nice to get pizza for dinner and let them stay out late that they went to bed without an argument.
I ended up reading from about 4:00 until 11:00 that night, a practice that used to be a common occurrence but had fallen by the wayside in the name of efficiency and productivity. Responsibility. Adulthood. Ohhh, but it feels so good to abandon myself in a story! To ignore the dishes in the sink and not think about what I should be doing or ought to be doing, and just revel in the pure pleasure of reading a good book. I can rack my brain all day long and I could not come up with anything I'd rather do than let a book swallow me whole and spit me out at the end of a long day, tired and maybe a little worn out from wherever the book had taken me. Of all their travels, my parents' best day was one beautiful day, where my mom, dad, and brother Tim were sitting in a park in Paris all reading or listening to an audiobook. They missed their flight home because of that, but none of them call it a mistake. That's my idea of a great travel day.
There's a Blind Melon song that has these lyrics, which I love: "All I can do is read a book to stay awake, and it rips my life away but it's a great escape." I realize that, just like a fattening meal, reading like this every day would make me a glutton. My life, and our household, would fall apart if I ordered pizza every night and put the dishes off until the morning. Maybe I have something in common with the addict I read about - having to balance the desire for pleasure with the responsibilities of normal life. Maybe it's better that I listen to audiobooks most of the time, because it's clear that when I get my hands on a good book, I tend to binge. But for now I'm going to revel in the joy of reading a good book, and hope for more days like this to come along. It might be my guilty pleasure, but it's still a pleasure.