My bedside table holds a visual reminder of my ambition to be informed and well read. The books and magazines taunt me as I fall into bed, and check Facebook for just a second. Thirty minutes later my eyes are too heavy and I promise I’ll read the next night. In my nightmares I’m chased by newspaper tumbleweeds into a canyon formed by a towering stack of National Geographic magazines while library books and professional articles rain down from the sky. When I wake, the books haven’t toppled over to cover my face, but I slink away, feeling guilty that they’ve been there long enough to collect dust.
I love to read, but sometimes it all bunches up. Books I have had on reserve at the library suddenly become available while I’m in the middle of another book, so I need to read faster. I enjoy the great articles in the National Geographic, and I always learn something new, but I’m still struggling through the January issue, while new ones keep arriving. I’ve had some success with recorded books, a perfect thing for car trips or a long commute, but they’re not always available, and I confess I really like to read from paper. No e-books for me (I spend enough time in front of a screen), and I also love to patronize our neighborhood library.
Growing up, our local library had a club for kids. To encourage reading over the summer, there was a reward for every 5 books you finished – you could pick a prize from a small treasure chest. Kazoos, plastic rings, I’m sure the they were no better than you’d get at a carnival, but it was fun to go in with my list of books, get a librarian’s smile, and head to the stacks for something else good. I remember selecting a book because the cover was orange – it really stood out on the shelves. I didn’t know the author or the title, but it wasn’t too big. It turned out to be Grendel, the Beowulf story from the monster’s point of view, and I’m not sure if I understood much of it, but maybe it seemed like a lost chapter of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Now, rather than cruising the shelves, I seek out specific books. Award winners, Chicago authors, books reviewed on NPR, detective and mystery books. Sometimes I’ll “binge read” a series – Robert Parker’s detective Spencer, Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. And I follow Sue Grafton closely as she finishes the alphabet mysteries with Kinsey Millhone. But lately, other media is invading my reading time: movies, TV, podcasts, blogs. They come so fast, even the few I select are piling up. That electronic queue may be less visible than the stack next to my lamp, but is no less imposing.
So this afternoon I’ll get in a comfortable chair with my tea and finish that article about Yellowstone National Park. And the reading stack is momentarily a little shorter.