I find the most age confusion these days when I try to decide on which book to read. A good 8 years has been stolen by busyness, transition and social media. I was not yet 30yrs old when I could last honestly call myself a Reader, and therefore as I approach 40 at a moderate gallop I realize I have missed a few things.In my teens I was all sensation; horror novels, trashy romance, decadent fantasy mixed with science fiction. In my twenties I turned suddenly quite serious and read gobs of books on spiritual topics, some that would now put me to sleep.
When I should have spent my early thirties steeped in history and biography, instead I moved several times, got married and then divorced and hit refresh on my facebook home page one billion times. It was only recently that I recognized how drastically these occupations atrophied my thought life.
And so I have begun to read books again but it is much like feeding a person who has been starving for years. There must be many broth meals before anything like steak will digest. I imagine at some point the Eater begins to have more mental and emotional hunger for food than her body can support. She finds herself writing elaborate menus that will take her years to fulfill, even while what she actually eats are bizarre little half meals. Homemade banana pudding and soft pretzels for breakfast, pickles and black tea with cream at 10, pot roast and raspberry sherbet for lunch. She institutes a tea time, though she’s American, and she buys short bread and can’t decide between a dark beer or a mug of hot chocolate…
What confuses me most about books is that I still have old lists that I’d intended to get through years ago. Books about how the brain works, memoirs by schizophrenics, classics I should have read at 27 like Les Miserables. At the same time, I’ve discovered a deep love for all things British and so, while I read theological explorations in the morning, I switch to modern British novels laced with self deprecation and sharp social commentary in the afternoon. I have fond memories of semi biographical, early 20th century Americans but I have lost the ability to hold their gaze for longer than twenty minutes at a time.
I bought a book by Dorothy Sayers a few weeks ago, but I’m realizing that I might want to save all detective stories for my 50’s. I love them, but so do my mother and all of her peers. If I cannot be as serious as I was in my 20’s, I cannot yet be as frivolous as I hope to be twenty years from now. Naturally, I see the value in frivolity but I don’t think I’m quite mature enough to make it my occupation.
Here’s another real problem; most of the people my age that didn’t get sucked into the bookless vortex know a lot more than I do. And my grey hair tattles on me. They ask me casually if I’ve read that biography of George Washington and all that comes to mind are snippets of cartoon facts I learned in the 4th grade. I move my eyebrows into the “I’m fascinated with your opinion” shape and beg my bottom lip not to betray me by sliding open with ignorance.
I come home to my stacks of reading material delighted, overwhelmed, starving, wondering how I can read 5 books at once. Could I juice them? No, I read one chapter of Buechner and switch to the audio version of The Two Towers and then try to mainline Flannery O’Connor before bed. Not to mention that sparkly new copy of Mastering Arabic 1 that follows me around the room like those portraits painted with a direct gaze.
And I’m gasping, and pushing my dizzy eyes into focus. Focus. R E A D.
I managed to make it to the end of a book yesterday and I felt so triumphant for having finished that my disappointment with the book itself was greatly minimized. I’m just eating to eat, practicing, moving the joints to reacclimate. This is how you chew, this is how you swallow. Chew, swallow, chew, swallow. But is my mind soaking up the nutrients, even as I choose prose like some ferrel cat at a banquet?
Will I learn things? Will I settle into a healthy rhythm or continue to lurch spasmodically through middle age and wash up exhausted and rotund on the shores of John Grisham?
Will the internet pull me back in with its glittering nonsense? May it not be so.
I raise my glass and toast to reading books.
May I return and return to their sustenance, shake off these tantalizing and empty browser pages and turn back to the dusty library shelves.