I’ve hardly been reading at all since the school year started. I think this is a fairly normal bump off the priorities list — as opposed to the doldrum depression of summer when it seems only books can save me from my despair, the school year brings new energy, movement, and a restructuring of time. There don’t seem to be long afternoons for cafes anymore, and at night I work out puzzles in my head: how to help that student, how to introduce a lesson I’m excited about, what to write next. My eyes are more tired now, and my brain is more manic.
I talk to my kids sometimes about stamina and volume in reading. I tell them that they need to work on their stamina and focus now so that they’ll be able to keep up with the huge volume of reading they’ll encounter in college. And I admit to them that I struggle with this sometimes. I remember when I was a kid, able to read for hours straight without moving, getting so focused on the story that I’d miss my dad calling me to dinner. Now, 20 minutes of focus on text is a lot to ask of myself. And I haven’t been asking for it much. Since the school year started I’ve started two books but not finished them, either disenchanted with the writing or unable to keep up with the story after picking up the book for too little time with too little frequency.
What fixed this was my best friend, Hammy. He visited this past weekend and suddenly my solitary little home and my normal quiet Friday night was full of another (wonderful) person. With the temporary death of my loneliness and the departure of my alone time, I found my brain keeping up this pattern of darting around without focus. We visited one of my perennial favorite places, a gorgeous local bookstore (check them out – Paper Nautilus) and after looking at stacks upon stacks of interesting used books, I felt the guilt of not reading twisting around a strong urge to read. So we went home, and we sat together on my couch, and we each read about 30 pages, companionably silent, chuckling and reading out good lines. And with that commitment of focus, my reading life has been restored.
The book I picked up that day was Brass, by Xhenet Aliu. I’m really amused and delighted by the way this book is written. It feels so real and gritty, yet intimate and sensual in some moments. The story is a mirrored one of Elsie and her daughter Luljeta, both lost and struggling in their youth as working-class, immigrant-born women. Where I am in the story, the mood is one of dull despair, and I’m doubting that Luljeta or her mother will “make it out.” I’m interested to see how Aliu grants agency and power to her seemingly powerless characters. I highly recommend it: Find a copy at your local indie bookstore
I’m also continuing my reading of the posthumous collection of Marina Keegan’s writing, The Opposite of Loneliness. I’m amazed by how much her work speaks for my specific generation. I feel like she’s heard me, given voice to me, and I want to reassure her that we are something and that she was someone. It’s so hard to feel the fact that a gorgeous voice is gone.
For my older or younger friends, if you’ve ever thought that millenials are annoying or spoiled or entitled or gutless, you might want to read this essay, “Song for the Special”. Feel how fundamentally human it is to want to be somebody and then try to judge us.
Now that I’ve officially turned the heat on in my little apartment, I think I’ll be able to find more quiet time. I love autumn rainstorms and chilly late nights and early mornings with blueberry muffins. Reading and writing (which I am attempting to practice daily) fit nicely into that niche.
What’s next? I have far too many books and very little inkling of which ones I’ll enjoy next. Anyone have recommendations?