To read like a child again

Sometimes a writer finds just the right way to express something that all the rest of us are thinking. That is the case with Michelle Slatalla's lovely column in today's New York Times, "I Wish I Could Read Like a Girl."

How many times have I had this discussion with book-loving friends! We still love to read, yet wonder what happened to the days of girlhood (because most often it is with female friends that I've had this talk) when reading was an all-consuming activity.

Slatalla writes of her three daughters,  "They drape themselves across chairs and sofas and beds — any available horizontal surface will do, in a pinch — and they allow a novel to carry them so effortlessly from one place to another that for a time they truly don’t care about anything else."

"This has nothing to do," she notes, "with the way I 'read' these days, with piles of books sitting forlornly on the night table, skimmed and dog-eared and dusty as they wait listlessly for me to feel a compelling urge to return to them.... That I can be sitting here now in another room two floors away from those half-digested stories and be engaged, without longing for them, in an entirely different activity is not something I would have believed possible when I was young."

Is it really a question of age? Some of it is undoubtedly the responsibilities that come with age. "When I sit down with a book, I feel the pressure — of unfinished work, unfolded laundry, unpaid bills," Slatalla writes.

Me too. Inevitably, the minute I try to start reading, something else happens. The dog needs to go out, the cat wants his head scratched, the phone rings, I remember that I never ran the dishwasher. I don't recall there being so many such relentless interruptions when I was young. (Or was I just better at shutting them out?)

But obviously it's more than that. Slatella has a theory:  "It’s an inevitable byproduct of growing up that I formed too many opinions of my own to be able to give in wholeheartedly to the prospect of living inside someone else’s universe."


And yet, once in a while it still happens. Last January I reread "War and Peace." I last read it when I was 17, but the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky tempted me to tackle it again.

And for a couple of weeks I was reminded of how it felt to read – instead of merely to "read."

I did have to interrupt myself to go to work, feed the animals, clean the house, pick up the drycleaning, and even read other books. And yet somehow I never really left Russia. Pierre, Natasha, and Prince Andrey were with me at every step.

It felt just like being a kid again. For that little stretch, I remembered how it felt to truly be a reader.

So here's my resolve for 2009: Perhaps as an adult it's harder for me to find those books. But I believe they're still out there

This year I'm going to make sure that at least a couple of times I pick up something that will once again turn me into a reader.

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