Every year, I make the mental affirmation to “read more.” This treatise usually comes with the proposal to put down the Swiffer mop and pick up the book that has been plopped, lonely, on my bedside table since January 1. At times, I have giving the book proper attention, taking it with me to the “library” (bathroom) when, regrettably, my phone is on the charger. I can usually get through four or so pages with a quiet intensity before Jrue and/or Jai enters uninvited and breaks my assiduity. Or, at night once the children are in bed, I have flipped through many pages with a loving dedication, soaking in each phrase and line, only to find myself yawning and rolling over to sleep due to the expiration of the day.
Essentially, I am “reading,” but not “reading more.”
As a little girl, I ate books for breakfast. My parents started a book collection for me as a baby and would read to me as much as they could. In imitation, I would babble to my dolls and bears, holding up my books to them to indicate what was happening (or not happening). I took reading materials along on trips to grocery stores. My mom discovered books in the bed with me in the mornings. When my younger sisters were born, I read to them with an incessant commitment, even as they cried for pacifiers or clean diapers.
My archives and, consequently, my passion grew larger as I aged. “Frog and Toad,” “Little Golden Books,” and “Little Critter” met “The Berenstain Bears” anthology. In the second grade, I was engaging the supplemental readers at school of the fourth and fifth graders. I engulfed storybooks of princesses and Disney-inspired adventures. For Christmas one year, a great-aunt brought me a catalogue of vintage novels, illustrated for my age group, of “Treasure Island,” “Oliver Twist,” “Little Women,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and “Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde” in my very first foray into the classic literary canon. By April the next year, I had invaded the series twice over. I downed “Aesop’s Fables” with “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” hit my brain with anything that Marc Brown’s “Arthur” had going on.
I soaked story.
By the time I discovered “The Baby-Sitter’s Club,” we had moved next door to a high school through which a public library was housed. I would walk the one block to the library and check out a group of books every two days or so. I vividly remember reading “Kristy’s Great Idea” one summer day and following it up with the next three books in the series in two weeks. The librarian would hold books for me. I started reading two or three books at a time. My mom would ask how I wasn’t getting the plot lines mixed up.
I just smiled.
I couldn’t get enough of those girls.
I soon demanded that my dad buy me my own “Baby-Sitter’s Club” book so that I could mark the boxes in the inside front cover of those I had read already. He took me to the local Borders bookstore and purchased as many as I needed, and I tracked them diligently, silently praising Ann M. Martin for her genius and writing grace. If I couldn’t find the next one in my consecutive numbering, I’d hop over it and find the next.
Once high school began, and I had read up to the last book at the time that Ann had written, I reluctantly picked up “Sweet Valley High” and did a whirl of obsession with those. “Goosebumps” had its moment. I ended high school with a sizable compilation of urban novels that my peers were reading. I saw realistic representation, not just a fantastic voyage. Terry McMillan and Zane were like godmothers to me. Carl Weber and Omar Tyree were awe-inspiring. Male writers?! Characters who looked and spoke in much the same way that I saw and heard every day? Amazing.
In undergrad, books for pleasure became second to heavy textbooks or discomforting novels for my many English courses (William Faulkner, I’m looking at you), though I did experience several surprising books that are now top-shelf at my home. “Life of Pi,” “Leaving Atlanta,” and “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” are three of them.
And I lived the greatness that is Toni Morrison. My, my, does Toni Morrison’s magnificence slap one around silly.
For one short season of life, my mania with books was leading me to a potential career in book publishing. Imagine that.
Nowadays, I purchase all kinds of sales books and store them on my meticulously-organized bookshelf, with all of the best intentions to plow through them eventually, albeit at a much slower pace. Prior to my babies, I had my Augusten Burroughs, my Richard Wright, my Elie Wiesel opportunities. Several books from Oprah’s Book Club kept me up late at night. Stephen King always found a way to entrance and terrify.
Now, after babies, I have had few intellectual ventures. Parenthood is, of course, fast and pressing and chews away at “alone” time. Reading is an isolated sport, after all.
The joy of being mommy, however, is that I have passed my love over to my children in the form of ABC books and touch-and-feels and “Pete the Cat.” They have begun to insist on reading before bed, which delights little me and mommy me. Our familial village provides books and I select times through which it is time to read.
I like to think that I turned out alright. Reading must be a good thing.
It really is.
Dr. Paul Haider, herbalist and teacher, described 18 health benefits of reading, including the ability to delay Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2017, Reader’s Digest published a fascinating article regarding why the human brain needs words. “Need” is an important, buzzy term. The Internet is chock full of the “why’s” and some of the “how’s” of reading for all ages and creeds and value systems. For me, it looks like I just have to carve out the time to indulge.
Like I did all those years ago between homework and dance practice.
Instead of scrolling through my phone at night, I’ll pick up my novel. While on my lunch break, I’ll find a quiet place for my sandwich and novel. Particularly, I have to relinquish the certainty that my home will never remain as sparkly as I try to maintain each day—alternatively, a book will help my brain travel, my pressure lower, and my vocabulary grow. All are great strengths for a mom.
I salute the athleticism of “the examine.” I salute the commonality and literacy exploits of “a good one.” I expect a great playback.