Essays, opinions and rants

Reading Jail

Reading Jail

Well, 2019, this was not how I planned to start our relationship. Not at all. 

My visions for us included skiing, snowshoeing, yoga, a return to veggie-centric and healthful dinners after a month of cheese and cookie dough. Writing. Reading. House organization. Cleaning and purging. Attacking the to-do list like a ninja.

Instead, my head has been in an invisible vice since Jan 1. Eight days later, I’ve reached the stage of flu-even-though-I-got-the-flu-shot wherein I rise from bed, drink five cups of (half-caf) coffee, pop two Tylenol and maybe some Claritin or Sudafed or whatever else tickles my fancy, snort a few squirts of saline solution, do a lap around the house surveying what needs attention, then head back to bed.

I’ve been wearing the same pajamas day and night. As of yesterday my energy level rebounded to the point of accessorizing by adding dramatic lipstick (to detract from my dirty hair, because I am vain) and a chic fuzzy scarf (for warmth and to fool the casual observer). You will not be viewing any photos of January’s signature look; you are not a casual enough observer. By casual observer I meant the UPS guy and any neighbors who can see in our windows. You would totally scrutinize any photo of this situation and I am NOT up for that currently, okay?

The dog begs for a walk and he does not get one. He’s resorted to walking himself around the yard. Here, scrutinize him in all his dazzling and furry glory:

He waits.

However. Just like purging a cupboard full of crap or editing a closet or pruning dead branches from a tree, when you clear out what’s (even temporarily) lost its utility or practicality, what remains commands more attention. After removing everything I lacked energy for from my to-do list, pretty much only reading was left. 

There is reward in the reading time afforded by convalescence. I’ve devoured two books in 2019 – Andrew Sean Greer’s Less and Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, both fantastic and inspiring – and started a third – City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, which is over 800 pages and weighs as much as a bag of groceries. 

As a cheery treat, I gave myself permission to stop reading anything if the writing wasn’t enjoyable (which I highly recommend; with so much to read in the world, just give up and move on if some book or article isn’t working for you…who has time for that kind of masochism?).

So after jettisoning a bunch of annoying stuff I’ve gotten to absorb delightful, compelling words and ideas, expertly arranged. Great writing is like a delicious meal, an incredible piece of music, a spell-binding museum. It’s fulfilling, and it inspires. Amid the tissue and the cough drops I’ve started a short story, conceived plot points for my full-length work in progress, brainstormed ideas for non-fiction pieces to craft and launch into the atmosphere. Notes galore sprouted between reading marathons.

But not just that: I also caught up on the fire hazard pile of unread newspapers that kept sliding toward lit candles, which I hadn’t recycled because there was one half of one more thing to finish reading in each section. I caught up on an assload of internet articles. And my email in-box is no longer the hoarder paradise it was last month.

The mind wants a fresh start for the new year, and is making  one out of the material available. 2019, we have not danced yet; the music is faint but growing.

In the meantime, please send your most excellent reading suggestions!


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4 thoughts on “Reading Jail”

  • UPDATE: I gave up on Hallberg book about 40 pages in after a few red flags involving the use of the word “suddenly.” We all have our own criteria. I swapped it out for Ottesa Moshfegh’s book My Year of Rest and Relaxation which is making me feel old but which I had no trouble ripping through 103 pages of last night.

  • I know this isn’t the reaction you’re looking for, but this sort of makes me want to come down with the flu! Feel better soon, my friend.

    • I know what you mean. We don’t get the opportunity to be helpless in our lives very often. It’s an odd form of luxury. And p.s. David Sedaris is such a comic god. He’s like Andy Rooney but with gentler delivery and less gentle subject matter. I adore that man and am bitter about not being born one of his sisters….

  • Even if you are not sidelined with the flu…you should try The Perfect Nanny (the title is more intriguing in the French) by Leila Slimani – it’s a quick read but quite deep in a subtle, thoughtful, mysterious and creepy way.
    Also, our book group is next reading The Line Becomes a River by Franciso Cantu…join us, Michelle!
    Hope you are feeling better!

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