Sometimes when I read, it’s like a lovely summer’s day when the sun is shining but it’s not too hot, not too humid, and there’s a light breeze, so I can sit on the porch and watch the world go by. Those books are the ones that are easy to slip in and out of, that are blissfully pleasant, unhurried, gracious.
Other times, when I read, it’s like attending a meeting, where I know I need to be present and that good things will come from being there, but I’m dreading the actual time spent in that room, and the inertia and preponderance of responsibility that comes from being in that room. I soldier on, though, and it feels right to do so. In the end, I’m glad I went and a lot got accomplished, but I’m also glad to be free and moving on.
Sometimes when I read, it’s a feast of small plates – just a few, or many, each one delicious and slight and hitting exactly the right spot, even though not a spot I realized needed to be fed. Each one so different from the next, each one a surprise, never filling on their own, but perhaps even more satisfying by taking off the edge rather than the satisfying the urge.
Then again, sometimes when I read, it’s a huge, sumptuous meal, with many rich offerings, one course built upon another to bring about a masterful crescendo of blended sensation; reading these books, I don’t feel the need to hurry, and even at times must push away from the table to allow what has come before to digest a bit, but I always look forward to returning while the smells are still wafting from the glorious table that has been set for me, and lingering there until satiated.
But at other times when I read, it’s nothing but junk food, and a waste of time, and a filling up on emptiness that leaves me feeling bloated and gassy and gross. Yet there remains the insidious hollow ache to be pandered to, the unhealthy diet with flavors so loud that they drown out everything else and then whisper “come back, come back, you know you want us!” and my weak self gives some excuse to indulge in them yet again, and again, and again. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Internet.)
There are times when I read when it feels like going to a distant cousin’s birthday party, one I attend out of a sense of duty. Everyone there pretends they are having fun, and it’s tolerable enough to not suck, but all of us would rather be somewhere else.
At other times, when I read, it’s like waking up on a Saturday morning with nothing to do, and being able to loll around in a comfortable bed, simply luxuriating in the words, the words, the lovely words, without a care in the world. These books are a pure joy to read, since the experience of actually having a Saturday morning with nothing to do is, in reality, extremely rare.
Many times when I read, it’s as if I’m having a wonderful outing with my very best friend that I’ve just met. One who is both familiar and companionable, and yet still delights me with new insights and witty repartees and crazy adventures in which we become enchantingly embroiled – adventures that I never could have envisioned myself but that I’m more than game to follow along with, even when they sometimes get a little more dangerous or a little darker or a little more fantastical than I’m used to. Maybe especially so.
But there are other times when I feel like I’m at a starchy opera, watching something self-righteously staged for an audience, sung overblown in a foreign language, and I can appreciate the art of it, and the skill involved in its performance, but I still need liner notes to know what’s going on, and have a hard time convincing myself to care. With these books, I’m always aware that I’m on the outside looking in.
And sometimes when I read, I find myself going down a path that I simply can’t bear to follow, because it’s either too boring or too poorly hewn – or too scary or too visceral, or too something that feels wrong. I have learned to listen to my heart, and abandon these paths as soon as I recognize them, without a backwards glance.
But then, there are a few rare times when I read and it feels like camping out on a Canadian glacier, with the crackling of a fire to keep me company under a sky full of dancing stars, waking in the middle of the night as elk brush up against my tent, their breath steaming as if imbued with tellurian magic; roused in the morning from a delicate dream into air so cold and pure that my heart soars. I should be sad at the impossibility of being able to adequately share the measure of this intimate experience with anyone else, and yet I have an overwhelming sense of blessedness for having been a part of it.
Ah, but sometimes when I read, it feels like being swept up into a consuming passion, and I simply cannot get enough. All I want to do is immerse myself in reading, secluding myself behind walls of captivation, giving myself over to nothing more than the movement and the motion of the story. It is here that I am brazenly greedy. I do not rush slap-dash through the pages, but take the time to give them my complete and utter attention. I breathlessly succumb to the stories they unmask, no longer existing save that which is borne on the crest of their telling, forsaking all else, caring for none else, wanting nothing more, until I am grudgingly foisted, sputtering, back into my mundane reality.
Those are the best of times. And to my utter amazement, they happen quite often.
Indeed, sometimes when I read, any of these things may happen – more than just these. The possibilities are endless. And each time I open a new book, I thrill at all the potential right there at my fingertips.
And I dive right in.
~ Sharon Browning