I’m a reader. Not necessarily the most prolific (Steve McCoy) or the most ambulatory (Matt Jennings), but my love of reading is one of the ways that I’ve consistently defined myself since I can remember. I find myself choosing friends based on similar taste in books and rudely judging people by their book covers in airports. I think I’ve already written something in this blog about the joys of re-reading, but here’s another little readerly confession: I frequently read below my grade level.
It’s not that I don’t love a challenge. I just started a biography of Cleopatra that I’m really enjoying and that makes me think about the role of women in society and politics. But at the end of a long day or a long week, sometimes I don’t want the challenge. I don’t want to think about big picture implications of anything. I’m not interested in how this most recent novel or biography reflects on today’s society. Frankly, I don’t want to lose myself in the elegant language of Michael Cunningham or the detail of Michael Lewis. All I want to do is lose myself.
On those days, I read books I’ve loved since I was 10 or 12. The Secret Garden, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Old friends exhausted, I turn to new ones like the Harry Potters, His Dark Materials, or The Hunger Games. I feel a little bit embarrassed about it. I’m practically 40, and I’m reading like a pre-teen? (I sometimes try to use these books as a way to connect with my brilliant nephew Will, who is a genuine pre-teen but has actually passed this point in his own reading.) And double my guilt because my husband takes the opposite tact. He reads the New Yorker and then turns to whatever most recent non-fiction is likely to be discussed on Sunday talk shows.
I don’t know what it is about these books and this escape. Maybe it’s lazy, or maybe it’s just a way to free myself from any connection to week-day, work-day chores. All I know is that an hour of reading something light but entertaining–even when or especially when it isn’t for grown-ups–feels as good as well-earned nap.
Fortunately, I’m a very fast reader. So a book like this takes me a day or so, maybe two during the week. I can quickly regroup and get back to sharpening my poor, tired mind. But it is nice to take an intellectual vacation from time to time and just enjoy a tale, well-told.
I just re-read Sounder for the first time in decades. At just 80-some pages, it’s a very quick teen-level read, but so beautifully written.