Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reading as Sacred Time

One of my favorite pictures from my childhood is one in which I am sitting with my mother and father and they are reading to me. I was probably three or four. Then when I became a parent, one of the best parts of the day was reading time. Once when we were on a family vacation I was reading to us in the car and when we came to the end of the sad story, my husband had to pull over to the side of the road because we were all in tears. Now there is reading time with my grandchildren. In fact, the day before our grandson was going to be born, my granddaughter and I cuddled on her bed all afternoon and read together. With each book she removed from the shelf she said, "This is my favorite." Sacred times.
Books have always been sacred objects for me. Reading time is sacred time. The places where I read are sacred, as well.
Sometimes, however, it is all overwhelming. The piles of books that await. The lists of books that call. The books about books, such as 1000 Books to Change Your Life (Time-Out Guides, Ltd.) or the article in the new issue of MentalFloss, "The 25 Most Influential Books of the Last 25 Years" suggest book after book after book to read.
In recent years I have had a harder time making a decision about what to read next. The decision seems more important these days, for fewer reading years are ahead of me than behind me. Therefore, each choice means the elimination of many, many other possibilities. There simply won't be enough life-time to read all the books I want to read. In years past if the book I was reading wasn't as good as anticipated, I would continue to read to the ending. Not finish a book? Unthinkable. I am now a "quitter." If I do not become engaged early in the reading, even if I have purchased the book, "slap" goes the cover, and I turn to the pile of books next to my reading chair in the dining room or the shelves of books in my office or the living room or our bedroom--all luring me. "Choose me. Choose me." The decision time begins all over again.

I tend to assemble a "Book Buffet," meaning I read several books at the same time. Well, not at the same time, but you know what I mean! Currently, in my morning meditation time I read the day's meditation in The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo plus a chapter each in Loving-Kindness, The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzburg and A New Christianity For a New World, Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born by John Shelby Spong. With this kind of material how easy it would be to just stay in bed and read all day.

Last night I finished reading American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, the novel based on the lives of Laura and George W. Bush, an engrossing read. Because I always read before turning out the light, I needed to select a new book. I have a library book waiting for me, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, one of the New York Times best books of 2008, but I decided instead to take one of my "dip" books to bed with me. "Dip" books are ones in which I can read a chapter or selection out of order or as I feel inclined. My current "dip"books are Let There Be Night, Testimony on Behalf of the Dark edited by Paul Bogard, A Jury of Her Peers, American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter, and Small Wonder, Essays by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver won.

In addition, I usually have both a novel and a nonfiction book going at the same time, and I am at a point of decision in the nonfiction world, too. Will it be SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck (Maybe this will help me with the book selection process.), The Birds of Heaven, Travels with Cranes by Peter Matthiessen in preparation for doing some volunteer work with the International Crane Foundation or Things I've Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi? Stay Tuned. Before I begin to write, including a post for this blog, I read a bit in one of my writing books. Today I read a few pages of Old Friend from Far Away, The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg.

Is this true for you? I am more inclined to read favorite books again than I was when I was younger. I seem to have given into the knowledge that I will never taste all the books that interest and appeal to me, so why not settle in with an old favorite? Also, I no longer feel compelled to read a book because someone in my life recommends it. Tell me about it, please, and why you loved it and share your enthusiasm. I love book talk, but it may or may not appear in my Book Buffet. Oh, and one last observation about reading in the sacred sixties, I am reading more and watching less television. True, often HGTV draws me in or watching a movie appeals, but more and more the book in hand as well as the one in the bush wins. I am sure you know what I will be doing next. Enjoying sacred time with a book.


  1. What a treasure to have that photo!

  2. I love this photo, Mom. Maren and I spent a lot of time reading in the mornings while Mike was gone this weekend. And I've noticed that now, when I settle on the floor with Pete in my lap and a couple of books to read, he giggles with delight. As long as he has a board book to hold, he is content to be read to. Thank you for passing your love of books to Maren and Pete via me!

  3. Nancy,
    How fun to see you mention Let There Be Night as one of your "dip" books! That's exactly one of the things I had in mind when I put the book together. I hope you enjoyed some of the selections.


    Paul Bogard
    editor, Let There Be Night