Reading is Bliss

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”  From The History Boys by Alan Bennett

This week I took time to read.

A lot.  And I am so glad that I did.

It was wonderful to dive head first into a novel (The History of Love by Nicole Krauss) and a spiritual book (The Laughing Jesus by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy) as well as a re-telling of a Buddhist parable (The Buddha and the Terrorist by Satish Kumar). When I am teaching full-time, I find it hard to read for pleasure.  I constantly read/grade papers, which is often an activity that makes me fall into near despair.  (Reading awful writing can be very exhausting. Mind you, not all my students are awful writers. However, the ones who are give me a run for my money.)  Still, I want to read much more than I do.  I am surrounded by piles of intriguing books, but I don’t muster the courage/energy to read due to my blind need to put my students first.  I realize that that needs to stop.

I thoroughly agree with Nora Ephron’s sense that “reading is bliss.” (Rest in peace, dear Nora. I loved Julie & Julia and You’ve Got Mail, even if they were considered too corny by some.) Reading opens doors.  I fall through the page and I am changed when I read.

I grew up in a household full of books. There were books everywhere. We had library cards and book club memberships. We competed in the summer to see who could read the most books.  I read Helen Keller’s books.  I read about Amelia Earhart and Nancy Drew.  I read Dr. Dolittle and Little Women. Books were magical worlds unto themselves.

Studies show that human beings actually have more empathy for others when they read — particularly fiction!

So, it turns out that telling stories is good for us.  It opens our hearts as well as our minds. It stimulates the imagination.  It causes us to lose track of time.  (That is exactly the way I feel when I am writing, too.)

That, to me, is perhaps the best aspect (that, and what I learn).  Losing track of time. Dawdling. Dreaming. Falling through the page and wandering around with the Mad Hatter or Lizbeth Salander or Harry Potter or Fitzwilliam Darcy. When I am rested and have time to languish in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee nearby, there is nothing better than getting lost in a good book.

What’s next?  Some Rumi. A book about ways in which to start training my unruly doglet.  A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James.  I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron.

I hope the words I write will reach out and take a total stranger’s hand — now, or someday soon.  That way, I can at least try to repay my debt of gratitude to all the countless writers — souls both living and dead — whose work has been such a lifeline to me.

© 2012  Shavawn M. Berry  All rights reserved

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2 thoughts on “Reading is Bliss

  1. I am taking advantage of the summer to do some reading as well. Like you, my semesters are taken up with students’ words–some good, some awful, but a lot in between–so I have little time to read anything else.

    I just finished, and highly recommend, _The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl_. I found it impossible to put down, and I learned a lot about a region and history I didn’t know much about.

    Right now I am reading Richard Dawkins’ _The Ancestor’s Tale_, and just started _The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks_. She was a poor African American migrant who worked the tobacco farms of Virginia, and who died from an aggressive cancer in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue was taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, and turned out to provide cells that could survive–even thrive–in the lab.

    Happy reading!

  2. Henrietta Lacks is on my bedside table. I went to a workshop about a year ago with the author. It was fascinating to hear about her process of researching and writing the book. It took her twelve years. It took the first five years to gain the trust of Lacks’ family. She started it in grad school and then worked on the proposal, eventually getting the NY Times to let her write a long article on the story. She’s been fascinated by HELA (Henrietta Lacks’ cells) since she was in high school. It sounds like a really interesting story about how one woman changed medicine — without her knowledge or her permission…

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