Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summer Reading, Future Reading

Next week is the start of classes here at Virginia Tech. I’m sitting by the open screen door with a cup of hot tea and wearing a long sleeved shirt because the easy breeze blowing through our yard has the first cool hints of the turning season. The crickets are chirping in the underbrush, and apples were fresh at the farmer’s market this morning. It almost feels like Fall, and I am ready to begin my new work, but also I am not.

Soon, I will meet my English education students for the first time.  We will be reading and writing and learning together. I will be asking them to blog, too, and their first post due is the topic “Summer Reading, Future Reading.” Because I read and write with my students, their blog topics for class will be mine here, as well. And reflecting on the reading I have done this summer seems a good transition into my new role in this new place.

This is the first summer in several years that I have been given the time for pleasure reading. Having just finished four years of graduate school, I have spent the better part of my summers reading books related to work and study. The summer I was writing my comprehensive exams, I read 60 books—all related in some way to my evolving dissertation proposal. Last summer I was beginning the research work of my study, so again, my reading was related to that, when I had time to read.

But this summer, with my dissertation defended and submitted at the beginning of May, I was allowed the freedom to read in ways I have not in years. First, I read books that were related to what I had been reading—habits die hard, I guess. I found myself engrossed in David Abram’s phenomenological work Becoming Animal, which was beautiful. I devoured Being Caribou, a non-fiction account of a couple who follow the annual caribou migration from Canada to Alaska. It was fascinating. Then, I read a book on mindfulness given to me by a former student. I was working on some publications and conference proposals, so, I would read a book, take a short break, and work on something else until I found another book.

But then, something happened. I discovered that one of the public libraries at which I hold an account allows patrons to “borrow” e-books, and the bottom dropped out. After that day, I carried my iPad everywhere, ate with it on the table during meals. I knew Brian might have been terrified if he had woken to find me reading at 4:00AM, face illuminated as if by a campfire horror story flashlight trick, but I did it anyway. I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I read a Jonathan Safran Foer novel. And then—on a recommendation—I downloaded the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire series, otherwise known as A Game of Thrones. I was lost.

Have you ever wanted so badly to finish a book—not to get to the end—but, instead, to get your life back? So stands my romance with George R. R. Martin and his smutty, schlocky fantasy series. For weeks, obsessed, I did little else besides lose myself in the drama of battles, romance, incest, wildings, others, lions, direwolves, dragons. I doing so, I became again the little girl I was, curled under the sheets with a flashlight, engrossed in Madeline L’Engle or Ursula LeGuin, reading all night, reading all day, even while my mother yelled at me to go outside and play. I read all four of the first Ice and Fire books without a break between, discovered there was a fifth, and then I read it too.

I had forgotten what it was like to be able to totally leave myself behind, so deeply engaged in a text that the world fades away. As a child, I loved that feeling, but now it is a little unsettling. After five books worth, I found myself missing me, even as much as I (ashamedly) loved the story and saw pieces of myself reflected in the characters.

Now, with a few days left before the start of the semester, I have real reading to do—pedagogy, YAL, and more related to my research. And, perhaps more importantly, I have myself and my world toward which to turn. Frankly, I feel I need a break from summer reading. The sixth Ice and Fire book is not out yet, and that is a good thing. I am not even going to look for it until next summer. 


Elizabeth Singleton said...

After I have gone through a long period of not reading fiction, I am always amazed at how a book can take over. I absolutely loved/hated Gone Girl but found myself waking up in the middle of the night and tiptoeing into the living room to read it so as not to wake up Tim. I was glad to finish that book for the same reasons that you talk about. It sounds as if you are on a path to find a balance. Let us know how that goes.

subsistingonpeanutbutter said...

You are telling my story, Sarah! I know PRECISELY what you're talking about, when you say you want your life back. I've often thought that books (always novels for me) are like a drug addiction: you can't stop, you're sick of reading, you want to do something else-- anything else-- but you simply cannot stop.