My family lives in southern California. But not the beachy, warm-year-round part. We live in the mountains just north of Beach Boy fantasy land. For the past month we’ve routinely gotten freezing temperatures, and just this past week had several days of snow. It’s definitely the time of year in which we warm hot chocolate, break out the cozy blankets, and read a good book in front of a blazing fire. And yes, I’ve already burned holes in multiple items as I bask in the cozy but deadly glow of that bright, tantalizing gift from the Gods, which both warms toes and burns things alive.
It’s like a microcosm of all things that matter, eh? If you care about them, if they warm you inside, they also have the power to char the flesh right off of your soul. Same as a good book. For me, at least, it’s during the winter, during the cold months of increased darkness where we huddle near heat sources, that I take some risks and try out bigger, more difficult, and potentially more rewarding books. It was during the winter that I first read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Samuel Beckett’s End Game. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Do your reading habits change as the trees lose their leaves and collect frosty white stuff on their skeletal limbs? When the earth tilts away from that flaming orb in the sky, when the heat that sustains all life on earth diminishes *just* enough to make you desperately seek other, artificial suns for supplemental warmth and light, does it alter the way literature affects you (and does it inspire you to write florid prose about the changing of seasons and the meaning of life? Maybe that’s just me.)?
Winter is coming. Luckily, though it’s getting cold, and the daylight shorter, the sun never quite turns its back on us (to any folks who live above the 23rd parallel, I’m sorry). Here’s my daughter reading recently in a cozy patch on the carpet, gently warmed by a ray of sunlight that traveled through a hundred million miles of impossibly cold, dark, and empty space to give her just the right illumination to read a book:
They can be so needy sometimes.
Of course, it’s not like I really have to choose between the people I love and my books, not completely. But you know those times when you’re right in the middle of the good part — when someone’s about to die, or they’re about to find out who’s behind the curtain, or maybe there’s just a really freaking great description of a cocktail party and all the lost souls who attend such things? In moments like these, when someone says, “Did you hear me? Take. Out. The. Trash,” and gives me a look that says, “Right now, or I will cut you,” I sometimes teeter ambivalently on the precipice of getting stabbed, if only to read a few more words.
When I was a kid, I’d carry a book around with me everywhere I went. You know, just in case I scored three minutes in which nothing else was happening: at the bus stop; during the commercials in between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Denver, The Last Dinosaur; while walking from my fourth-grade classroom to recess (anyone else ever smash their head on the bar between two doors that open outwards? Those things were killer).
Having a toddler around means that I have lots of three-minute opportunities to crack open a book. Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to reach total immersion at the drop of a hat the way I used to; most of the time three minutes just doesn’t feel worth the effort. But every once in a while, I’ll come across a book that just begs to be read, that stays in my head all day long, such that I can almost remember the sentence I left off with. And then I get mocked for wandering around the house with it under my arm, for bringing it to the bathroom with me, for holding it open with one hand while stirring pasta, for throwing it into the diaper bag as I run with Addison to the store. You know, just in case the traffic lights are really long.
And, I gotta be honest, books like these don’t always make me a better husband or father. When I’m in the middle of one, it can be damned hard to even get up to relieve myself, much less perform a task necessary for the smooth operation of our household. Washing diapers, at a time like this, are not on the top of my priority list. And, of course, the best way to get un-interrupted reading time is to call up Dora for a little babysitting. Is it possible, I wonder to myself as I find my page, that my daughter might learn to love books because they indirectly reward her with TV? Probably, I decide. Yeah, more than likely.
“Daddy, do you want to go read? You can put Dora on for me if you want.”
So, in terms of the comic, I suppose you might say that I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. At least every once in a while. Since I’m still married and my two-year-old can spell her name (A-D-D-I-S-O-N!), I suppose there might be room for multiple loves in my life. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m now such a snob with books; if I liked everything I read, I’d probably be divorced and living in a box under a bridge, reading to my heart’s content.
Hopefully nobody is currently living under a bridge with their library of books, but when you’re in the middle of a good book, what ends up going out the window to make room for it? Has your ability to immerse changed over the years? By inclination or by necessity?