18 September 2007

Why I Never Needed to Use Drugs


My dad used to yell at me. Frequently. I could never figure out why. There I was, just reading a book, and all of a sudden, someone's screaming at me.

At least, that's how it seemed to me. To my poor dad, I had been ignoring all of his reasonably-toned attempts to get my attention. Yelling my name from just a few feet away was the last resort.

I'm not sure he really believed I didn't hear him the first 10 times. So, Dad, the truth: I really didn't hear you. Because I wasn't actually sitting in the living room. I was inside that book (whatever the book was at the moment), and everything around me had long ago faded away.

Because that's how it is with me. If a book is engaging, well-written, and tells a good story, I just climb right in. I lose any sense of my eyes taking in the words. I'm just there, wherever there might be. (And truthfully? It doesn't even have to be that well-written. It does have to better written than Dan Brown, though. I just can't get more than a few pages into The Da Vinci Code, no matter what the best-sellers list says.)

Sometimes people who don't read much say admiring things to me about my reading, like reading is some virtue I have cultivated. It's not. It's just a thing that grips me. That lets me escape. That relaxes me. That gives me something to do when I'm bored. That brings excitement to an ordinary day. That shows me beauty, or darkness, or humor.

I've just finished re-reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books. There are six of them, each the size of large doorstops. And as sometimes happens when I'm in the grip of a fictional world, the narrator's voice seems to run in the background, even when I'm not reading. Not like someone's narrating my life, I'm not as quirky as all that. No, it's more like a murmur, like I'm half in my world and half in the book. Like the book is going on without me. I can see why some writers either don't read similar works or don't read at all when they're in the midst of a writing project. After a good six weeks or so in Gabaldon's world, I could probably write in her voice.

The escapism part is why I mostly read fiction, and why I don't read a lot of highly literary, er, literature. I can and do enjoy nonfiction, but if I can't get lost in a book, if the world doesn't fade away within a few minutes, I don't feel like I've had my reading fix.

If I don't have a book in progress for a few days, I get jittery. Something's missing. I read magazines, but they're just not the same. If I can't get to the library, I start looking at the books on the shelf. Are there any I haven't read yet? Any I wish to revisit? Because I need a book, and I need it now.

Sometimes my reading interferes with my life and my relationships. I run late to places because I just needed to finish a few more pages. I'm annoyed with my daughter or my husband because they have the gall to want my attention just as I hit a particularly good part. Dinner is late and the ironing undone because "just a few minutes" stretched out to...well, till I could drag myself away.

And it does feel like dragging. Or waking up suddenly from a particularly vivid dream. I'm groggy, and my mind moves slowly, still half caught up in another time and place, and coming back to reality only gradually.

So people who know me well know better than to admire the fact that I read a lot. They know how this addiction affects me, and they're not impressed.

In fact, sometimes they even yell at me.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Yeah, I remember that... and now, 25 years later, I have a 3 year old who can just disappear. Interesting TV show, computer game, doing mazes, whatever... if it catches her attention, she is just gone.

I guess she gets it honestly enough...

matt