Sunday, May 22, 2011

Having fun is really hard, despite the library card.

Libraries used to be wonderful, exciting places.  I used to go there regularly and pick out books or study.  I enjoyed browsing for a title that sounded unique, cover that looked interesting, an author I recognized, or a genre I enjoyed.  I carried a book with me wherever I went, and often spent Saturday afternoons curled up in a chair with a cup of tea and a novel.

Throughout college, I maintained a wishlist of books on Amazon, and gladly purchased the required texts for my literature courses.  And, unlike many of the other students in my classes, I actually read them!  Twain, Kipling, Defoe, Bronte, Orwell, Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, Salinger, whatever a professor threw at me, I read.  Everything, but Mrs. Dalloway.  Try as I might, I couldn't wrap my head around that.  And although I was looking ahead to a series of moves, being engaged to a Pre-Seminarian, I kept every single one of them.  Even Mrs. Dalloway.

During some dizzying years a third-grade teacher, I had little time for books with a reading level higher than 8th grade.  I was always in need of the next great read-aloud, and knew I wouldn't find it hiding on the shelves at home between D.H. Lawrence and Emily Dickinson.  So I grabbed E.B. White and Shel Silverstein; Kate DiCamillo and Beverly Cleary.  Good authors, no doubt.  But certainly not challenging.

I eventually quit that job, moved again, but this time, left most of the books packed away in storage.  Since having a kid, something in me changed.  Certainly I was aware that the majority of the books I would be reading would be at his level (at most, 32 pages, and fully illustrated).  But surely, since I would be staying home, surely I would have time for something more challenging that Eric Carle and Kevin Henkes.  Surely, surely I could find time for something well-written and though-provoking.

But sadly, no.  Most of the library time is spent finding books at his level.  If I ever get a chance to venture to the "Adult Fiction" section, and actually manage to peruse the shelves and select a novel; even if I'm lucky enough to bring it home and start to read, I'm sunk.  Somewhere along the line, everything above an 8th grade reading level became like Mrs. Dalloway.  I find myself rereading entire pages, searching past sections for the plot I missed, even wondering who the main characters are supposed to be.  I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that I'm interrupted every fifteen minutes, and that I'm constantly wondering what my child is up to when he's not interrupting me.

And so, I try to keep out of the Adult Fiction section.  The books I have managed to find and read (excepting Michael Perry) have been sorely disappointing.  But I keep being drawn back, in search of that elusive well-written, thoughtful text, authored by someone kind enough to keep everything simple enough that I don't have to think too hard about the meanings of the words on the page.  After all, I may only get a few minutes before my son wakes up, or empties a gallon of water on my kitchen floor, but I still want to read!


  1. Check out Sigrid Undset. Her writing is superb and her stories profound and important without being heady. She is the best, most competent woman author I've ever encountered.

    Also, I hate to admit it, but my Nook fixed my reading problem. I can walk the floors with a baby and read a 1000 page book at the same time without experiencing reading fatigue. It's truly wonderful.

  2. I'll second that about the e-reader. It's gotten me past the need to read an entire book in two hours. Now I can read an entire book in two months. !!

    And Mrs. Dalloway is the worst book ever.

  3. I'll check into her writing next chance I get!

    I've wondered about those e-readers....still not convinced they're for me. It's all a bit too intangible for me. I'm also not sure it's fix my ability to concentrate for extended periods of time.

    And what is it with Mrs. Dalloway?? I made it through some James Joyce without my brain exploding.