Back before I was even pregnant with my first son I harbored this little fantasy of what life enceinte would be like. I imagined something akin to an extended beach vacation (a smooth, sandy Great Lakes beach) where my only responsibilities were to plump out and devour all the books I ever wanted to read.
I got the plump part right at least.
Instead, right up to my delivery date, I taught two classes at Northern Arizona University—much of the time in pain from sciatica. Between grading and clearing out the spare bedroom as a nursery, reading took a back seat. My husband, Ralph, was teaching fulltime at NAU and commuting up and down the mountain to Arizona State University in Tempe for his final PhD class. Our son Erik’s December birth coincided with Ralph finishing his coursework.
I went back to teaching parttime a semester after Erik was born. Sleep deprivation and school work trumped reading. It horrifies me to think of it now, but I only read one book that entire year: a Barbara Michaels romantic suspense novel that obviously did not keep me in too much suspense.
Fast forward to late summer 1995: I’m recovering from the C-section birth of my second son (my mother, God bless her, ‘edited’ my legs out from many of the pictures of me in bed holding my new baby. A career as an old-timey circus sideshow attraction was surely an option for me then…and I ain’t talking about the Bearded Lady.).
Why I chose as post-pregnancy reading material the Kazuo Ishiguro book from the library I did, the title of which escapes me and even a trip to Amazon doesn’t enlighten me, I’ll never know. I still have nightmares about that book. The ceaseless repetitive surreal scenes did not mix well with the pain pill Percoset. I soon abandoned both the narcotics and the novel.
Books are my vocation and avocation. Ever since my mother introduced me to the Honey Bunch series when I was five, I was hooked. They sure beat Dick, Sally, Jane and their insipidly named pets, Spot and Puff. A voracious reader from that age on, I soon ‘graduated’ to Nancy Drew and never looked back. The year I was ten I read “The Catcher in the Rye” and “True Grit,” both probably too gritty for a ten-year-old, but there was no turning back.
The only time my mom ever censored my choice of reading materials was when I was in 7th grade. The Detroit Free Press was serializing excerpts from “Sybil,” the story of a woman diagnosed with multiple personalities. One morning the newspaper was missing. My mom explained she threw it away. That day’s installment contained graphic descriptions of abuse Sybil suffered as a child at the hands of her own mother. Naturally I dug the paper out of the trash and read it.
And I’ve regretted doing so to this day.
Over the years, I’ve belonged to four book clubs in three states and read countless tomes crisscrossing genres. About a week ago someone posted a question on the West Virginia Writers, Inc. Facebook wall asking people their favorite authors. Nearly a week later the thread is still going strong. I responded with just a smattering of my favorite books and authors.
And I’m constantly discovering new favorites.
But also over the years something alarming has happened. Some of the joy went out of reading—and writing. Granted, I write to earn money but also because it’s akin to a calling with me. That’s a part of writing I never talk about except to say I knew from elementary school on I wanted to be a writer and have never really veered from that path.
In the dead of winter of this year, my mom and I had a heart-to-heart talk. We both wanted to make writing fun again. And so we have.
That decision opened the floodgates of reading joy. I’m no longer approaching every book I pick up as a ‘textbook,’ wondering if I should try something new, stretch my skills, stick to tried and true, the list is endless. I’m not saying I won’t do any of those things, but for now I’m at peace writing in the voice my mom and I do best together. And ideas for exploring future projects ‘out of my comfort zone’ are already scribbled in a notebook.
This summer, ‘thanks’ to foot surgery, I find myself with lots of reading time and no maternity clothes in sight. So I’m devouring books the way I used to race through the adventures of Nancy and her pals Bess and George.
There are so many books I still want to read (and write) and I need to embrace my enforced stillness rather than railing against it.
Who knows? I may even spend a few hours revisiting “The Secret of the Old Clock,” or “Harriet the Spy” or Harry Potter or pick up Anne Tyler or Jonathan Franzen or Lynn Austin or—the list is endless.
And I, for one, feel like a kid whose just been let back into the candy store.