Monday, April 12, 2010

Back to the Books

Understand this – I’m a bookworm. When I worked at a conference center in the Santa Cruz Mountains, my teambuilding name was “RIF” – Reading is Fun. I was twenty years old. Now every six months or so Will and I marvel at our bookshelves, which despite our efforts to “pare down, buy less, borrow more” sag under the weight of our new acquisitions. I will admit here that I have been a two-books-a-week reader for most of my adult life. I say this not to gain your admiration – I’m often not proud of the fact that I’ve neglected people, pets, house and lawn to cuddle up with a good book. More than once I’ve suspected an intervention is on my way – “Put down the IndieBound pick of the month, Paula!”

And then there’s lately.

Okay, I have been busy (thesis yada yada), mainly with my own writing. The books I do read are thesis- and graduating-presentation-related. I’ve begun the terrifying process of thinking through what’s next -- pursue writing with passion or get a job that pays some of the bills? I’ve finally awoken to the fact that my house, under a façade of surface cleanliness, is really quite a mess. And then there’s the allure of Sporcle, which feeds my alt-obsession, geography. When I do end up sitting down with a book, it’s in the last minutes of my day, tucked beneath the comforter, backlit by a bedside lamp. I might make it through a few pages or only a few paragraphs. Sometime during the night I realize that my cheek has been indented – perhaps permanently – by the edge of the book. It makes for slow-going, to say the least, which is why I can’t entirely blame the book. Or the author.

Then last week, I spent three days in the company of my niece, the charming eighteen-month-old Sabine. Other than digging through kitchen cabinets for Tupperware containers and her all-time favorite, the strainer, her chief form of pleasure comes from books. My sister – an English major and teacher – keeps Sabine supplied with books from steady trips to the library. (Last week’s haul? The Very Busy Spider and Time to Pee!) Sabine could, quite literally, spend hours dragging books from her bookshelves to a waiting lap, listening intently and carefully turning the pages. Her favorite, dramatically intoned by my sister or her husband, is Drummer Hoff by Barbara and Ed Emberley. The story is a rhyming build-up to Drummer Hoff’s firing of the canon, which goes off with a big “KABABABOOM!” Sabine knows every moment of the story; she can even point a chubby finger to the tiny little “click” right before the canon is fired – that “click”, she knows, is imperative to the outcome.

I took my turn, too, sitting on the floor next to the couch and accumulating quite the stack of books, including some of her outgrown “baby” books – with ducks and geese and 1, 2, 3s.

“Why are you reading those, Sabine?” her dad laughed. “You haven’t looked at those in months.”

I knew the answer, even if Sabine didn’t. It was for nostalgia, for the peaceful, all-is-right-with-the-world feeling you get when you slip back into a favorite book. You already know the outcome, so for once you can just relax and enjoy the story. It’s like meeting up with old friends – the quiet, non-judgmental kind. And right about then I started missing my bookshelves, the long rows of books with cracked spines and worn corners and dogeared pages. I wanted to rediscover what I had once known, and what Sabine has already discovered – that reading is fun.

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