A Reading Life

If you’re reading a blog about books, you’re probably one of us: a habitual reader. Your life is measured out in pages rather than coffee spoons and you probably get the Prufrock reference, too.

Lots of people hear a song and it recalls a memory that takes them to a time when that song was playing. The memories of readers often evoke the books they were reading during a certain time. During the month in bed before my daughter was born I spent a week in Savannah immersed in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I read Jasper Fforde’s Lost in a Good Book while traveling the airways between Cleveland and Orlando and back. And surely another reader recalls covertly reading Judy Blume’s Forever sandwiched between a textbook cover during her teen years.

Memories of books become even clearer when they’re discussed, particularly if the ending is ambiguous like that in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist or Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. You may recall a friendly argument about a character’s choice, whether he got what he deserved, or whether a plot was believable. You most definitely enjoy relationships in which asking “What are you reading?” is an expected and welcome part of your conversations.

There is always a stack of books that readers keep in reserve because not having a next book waiting is like not having a coat when it’s freezing outside–you’ll live through it, but it will be quite uncomfortable.

I don’t need to tell you that reading has many benefits. You can find a good list of them here: The 26 Major Advantages to Reading More Books and Why 3 in 4 People Are Being Shut Out of Success I’d wrap it up by saying that reading makes us more empathetic and interesting, and the right book at the right time has a the power to help heal what ails you.

This is a long introduction to a beautiful book about a woman who was many things–a feminist in the decade before feminism, a teacher, the first woman director of admissions for Harvard and Radcliffe, a tireless humanitarian who founded and ran organizations to benefit world refugees and to create a library in Afghanistan, a wife, mother, and grandmother, and always a reader. In The End of Your Life Book Club author Will Schwalb lovingly chronicles the last two years of his mother’s life and the books they read and discussed during her battle with pancreatic cancer.  The books provide platforms for discussing the difficult issues that Schwalb and his mother face and for understanding what motivates and sustains this formidable woman.  Schwalbe’s book is a testament to the power of books to enhance relationships.  In it we readers find kinship and an eloquent justification for the hours we spend with our noses in books.

One comment on “A Reading Life

  1. Constance,

    I found you via Max Riffle’s tweet of one of your memoir lists, then followed you on Riffle and used Riffle to find your blog. I’m so excited to find librarians and voracious readers online. As a reader who will becoming an author this year, I am discovering the joy of connection.

    Let me add a book story to your list. I grew up on a dairy farm. I helped milk cows twice a day for eight years before I left home for college. I would always take a book with me to the barn. My father would give me orders for feeding the cows. I would hold the book in my left hand and scoop with my right. My father had a knack of waiting until I was into the book world and then call me out of it with his next order. I read more than one book this way.

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