The Pleasure of Reading

Just got a phone call from my sister in California. She was in a bookstore, chatting with a family looking for a book that would be “appropriate” for a sophomore girl attending a Christian high school. The book had to be written by someone outside of the US and could not have been made into a movie. As I ran down the list of potential suggestions, I found myself at a loss. Everything was either a classic that had been made into a BBC production (cross Dickens, Austen and Bronte off the list right away) or a bit too racy or deep. Pathetic that my reading has been so corsetted since grad school that I didn’t have a single suggestion to offer. There’s specialization for you!

Ironic, though, that I was just thinking today that I’ve rediscovered my love of reading. I have been devouring this Elizabeth Gilbert book Eat, Pray, Love. I had wanted to read this one for a while and finally just went ahead and bought the book. It is about a woman who, after a painful divorce, travels for a year, spending four months in Italy searching for pleasure, four months in India searching for spiritual devotion, and four months in Indonesia looking for a way to balance it all. The book was funny, intriguing, and especially meaningful to me as I embark on this sabbatical year. I’ll probably write more on it later, but for now, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the opportunity to witness Gilbert’s personal transformation. It gave me a great deal of hope.

I’ve also been reading a book about transitions, about how we do not, as Americans, do a great job of helping ourselves and each other deal with the psychological impact of change (at least not as a culture, overall). William Bridges’s Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes says that there are three stages in transitions: endings (trick there is to recognize and acknowledge the ending rather than speeding on our way), neutral zone (a time of reorientation and confusion that can seem unproductive but is necessary), and new beginning (which we can’t truly embrace unless we’ve had our ending). I’m not done with this book, but I see its relevance to me as well as its relation to Gilbert’s book.

I’ve been beating myself up for not being more productive on writing Grandma’s book now that school has started (my self-imposed start time to get back to the manuscript). I prefer, in light of my recent reading, to think that I AM doing what is absolutely necessary, giving myself space to transition, reading what others have written in order to gain from their experience. I am not being unproductive but rather I’m fueling up. And unless I can acknowledge some endings that I have refused to think about, I will find it hard to make a new beginning.

For one thing, we have not buried our dead dog. Well, her ashes, I mean. It’s been over a year. We have a new dog and everything, but we had planned on burying the dead one before bringing home the new one. Then my grandma died and I had to fly to California, and after that I couldn’t even think about burying the dog, had to ask my husband to hide the ashes in the basement. We picked up the new pup soon after I got home, and then the little wiggleworm took over our lives (as puppies do). Then school started, and I had deadlines at the publisher and this that and the other thing that is a part of a professor’s job. A whole school year passed, laboriously, and then I taught summer school (got to fill up the time, right?) Oh, yeh, and then we went on that 10,000 mile trip across America, retracing my grandmother’s family.

And here I am now. No wonder I’m finding it difficult to make a new beginning. So many un-dealt-with endings just hovering over me!

I don’t know how to deal with the grief, though. I mean I’m 43 and yet I have had very few deaths to handle in my life. My grandfather died when I was pregnant with my son, but there was hardly any time to handle that one. Besides, Grandpa was great and I loved him, but Grandma and I were so close. Then our dog died, a friend I hadn’t seen in years committed suicide, and then Grandma died.

I wonder if it would be too weird to have my own memorial service at this time for my grandmother. Her service was in California over a year ago, but that was a place far away from my husband, son, and my friends. The ceremony was pretty much dictated by my mom and the funeral parlor and a couple of Grandma’s wishes and the hired minister. The only thing I added was that I read the last story in the book that Grandma and I had worked on before she died — but even that was relegated to the time when anyone could come up and say a few words. I wonder what it would be like to hold my own service for her at this late date. What would it be like? Would it help me or make me dwell on things more?

At least I ought to bury my dog. Especially before winter hits and it’s impossible to dig a hole again for six months. My son, whenever I mention my grandmother, jumps in with how much he misses the dead dog. To him the two deaths are bound together, I guess. Maybe they are to me as well. I’ll have to give this some thought.

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2 Responses

  1. Not a lot of the above is about pleasure . . .

    But the reading thing is awfully important to intellectuals, I think. I find that good books, even ones I’ve read before, can help me to process things that are going on in my life. When I think about that I always think about a book I read a long time ago by Richard Bach. It might have been Illusions. In it one of the characters opens a book to seek the answer to something or other. It was clear that the book didn’t matter, nor did where it fell open. It was just a tool to see the world a little differently, which is sometimes enough.

    I think it is a good idea to have a memorial service of your own. If endings are important, then the nature of the ending might be important, too. So we should end things on our own terms, when we have the opportunity to do so. I think.

  2. Thanks, caveblogem. The pleasure of reading for me is in the moving outside of myself. Gilbert’s year abroad brought me to a different place in my mind and heart and opened up new avenues for me in my own life. That is why I enjoyed reading her book so much, I think.

    Interesting about opening a book to find guidance. Isn’t that what they do with Tarot cards? And I know Christians who use the Bible that way.

    Glad you think the memorial is a good idea. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I got the idea and working through what I would do and whom to invite to share in that “ritual” and when would be an appropriate time to do it. I think you’re right that the nature of the ending is important to me. Grandma’s ending was too abrupt for me. I wish I had flown out to her right away when she had her stroke. I could have made it in time to say goodbye and hold her hand.

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