That image just says it all, doesn’t it?
Someone linked to this on Facebook, and I shared it last night, and within 30 minutes, 15 people had “Liked” it. Which is kind of remarkable seeing as I didn’t create this image or even post it originally (the initial posting has over 100 “Likes” and 35 Shares). I wish that I had attribution available so I could credit the person who did this; they did a spot-on job remixing this classic Penguin paperback design with new text, including typeface size and placement.
(There have been many remixes of the Penguin cover over the years, but my favorite still has to be the one created by Karen Wai and Kenny Leck for BooksActually’s Ode to Penguin exhibition last year. I own the very first two tickets given out to that event, but I never got to use them because of scheduling conflicts.)
Getting interrupted while I’m reading is one of my big pet peeves. And I’m talking about book reading here, not staring at the photons on my MacBook’s screen, like I’m doing right now. If I have a book in my hands, there is the reasonable expectation that I will be sinking all of my attention into those words, like a deep sea diver who’s most comfortable walking the ocean floor. And I ain’t coming up until I’m damn good and ready, at a section break or at the end of a chapter. I just can’t get my mind around people who can blithely stop reading in the middle of a chapter, or a paragraph, or a sentence, and have no problem picking back up where they left off next time. It’s as alien an action to me as eating french fries with mayonaise or leaving the house without a thorough pocket pat-down for keys, wallet, and phone.
One of my favorite books is Italo Calvino’s masterful If on a winter’s night a traveler (translated from the Italian by William Weaver). It starts off like this (and please forgive the long quote):
You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.
Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat. Flat on your back, on your side, on your stomach. In an easy chair, on the sofa, in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock. In the hammock, if you have a hammock. On top of your bed, of course, or in the bed. You can even stand on your hands, head down, in the yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally.
Of course, the ideal position for reading is something you can never find. In the old days they used to read standing up, at a lectern. People were accustomed to standing on their feet, without moving. They rested like that when they were tired of horseback riding. Nobody ever thought of reading on horseback; and yet now, the idea of sitting in the saddle, the book propped against the horse’s mane, or maybe tied to the horse’s ear with a special harness, seems attractive to you. With your feet in the stirrups, you should feel quite comfortable for reading; having your feet up is the first condition for enjoying a read.
Well, what are you waiting for? Stretch your legs, go ahead and put your feet on a cushion. on two cushions, on the arms of the sofa, on the wings of the chair, on the coffee table, on the desk, on the piano, on the globe. Take your shoes off first. If you want to , put your feet up; if not, put them back. Now don’t stand there with your shoes in one hand and the book in the other.
Adjust the light so you won’t strain your eyes. Do it now, because once you’re absorbed in reading there will be no budging you. Make sure the page isn’t in shadow, a clotting of black letters on a gray background, uniform as a pack of mice; but be careful that the light cast on it isn’t too strong, doesn’t glare on the cruel white of the paper, gnawing at the shadows of the letters as in a southern noonday. Try to foresee now everything that might make you interrupt your reading. Cigarettes within reach, if you smoke, and the ashtray. Anything else? Do you have to pee? All right, you know best.
Calvino was a reader after my own heart.
As I mentioned on Saturday, I’m an introvert, and one of the most vital things toward preserving an introvert’s sanity is time spent alone. We need that time to recharge the dopamine levels in our brains, and then feel like we can emerge into the world again. There are many ways to do this (and I’d be curious to hear techniques and tips from other introverts), but the most satisfying and fulfilling way for me is to read a book. And specifically, to read fiction. Narrative is necessary for me to descend into that quasi-meditative state brought on by highly engaged reading. (Not to diss non-fiction readers; it may be fine for you, but it just doesn’t work for me, in that fundamental recharging manner.)
This past year, because of heavy commitments both at work and at home, I read fewer books than in any of the past five years, and this had a profound impact on both my state of mind and my behavior. As Janet can’t surely attest, I was much more irritable, much crankier, much more likely to snap. Some of this came with the stress I was under, but a big part of it was that I wasn’t able to properly recharge my batteries, and so I always felt as if I was running on fumes (to mix metaphors, sorry). I quit my teaching job at the end of the year, and even though I haven’t found something else full-time yet, I’m happier than I have been in years. I’ve already read six books in January alone, and finally feel as if I’m coming back to myself.
So if you happen to see me out and about with a book in my hands, you know what to do. I’ll be happy to talk to you later, but not until I’ve marked my page at the end of a chapter. Until then, respectfully, beat it.