Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Fun" Reading and the Other Kind

Mama Audley and I have had this conversation many times. I tell her what I'm reading (Victorian novels, theory, philosophy, history), and she asks, "but what are you reading for fun?"

Then I irritate her by deliberately misinterpreting the question and saying, "this stuff is fun!"

But I know what she means: what am I reading simply for pleasure, deliberately resting my critical eye (insofar as it's possible) to just enjoying a book? Not for what I get out of it or what it says about its time or how I can teach/write about it, but just for its own sake. And when life gets busy and I feel like I'm constantly reading something for a reason or a goal, the answer is, too often, "not much," or "nothing."

So, earlier this week, in the middle of five projects that felt like fifteen, in the middle of constant and severe multi-tasking (the kind where you feel guilty for not working on three things at once), in the middle of citations and theory and archives and periodicals (all of which I love and enjoy, by the way), I turned off my computer one night, made myself a cup of tea, and read for fun.

My go-to book that evening (which is actually not mine, but was "borrowed" before I moved from Mama Audley's friend {and drinking buddy} Military Mom) was The Standard Book of British and American Verse, 1952, because it contains this poem:

When You Are Old and Grey, W B Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

On nights like that one I read it to myself, sometimes out loud and sometimes in my head, and the more I read it the more it sounds like music, and the more peaceful my mind becomes. Soon I'm not thinking about my to-do list or my what's-due list. I'm thinking about how beautiful those words are. Sometimes I read some of my other favorites, or I recite one of the handful I've memorized and so always have with me, but I always come back to this one. I could probably articulate why, but the point is, I don't have to. Because this, Mama Audley, is what I'm reading for fun.

So, my crazy, busy, book-loving friends. What are you reading for fun?


Me said...

You DELIBERATELY irritate me? As in on purpose?

I would NEVER do that to YOU.


Rhetorical Twist said...

An interesting post, my dear Lady Audley. While much of what I am reading for my seminars is, in my opinion, rather fun, I find myself turning to other kinds of books for relaxation. I don't say, "ooo! Let me read ahead to next week's Critical Theory readings and see what Kant has to say..."

This semester, for example, is extremely theory heavy. Thus, I turn to novels and poetry for relaxation. On the other hand, during semesters where I have been reading lots of novels and poetry, I found myself turning to more theoretical books in my spare time. Thus, for me, "reading for fun" usually indicates that I am reading something *different* from what is required. That doesn't make the required any less fun, it just mixes things up a bit.

To mix things up a bit, I've read several things in the last 2 months, usually right before I go to bed:

*Love in a Time of Cholera* (fab-u-lous. That one allowed me to immerse myself in a love story, which just totally speaks to where I am right now).

*Mowhawk Trail*, which was a second read, but just as good as the first. I get lost in Beth Brant's writing.

Currently, *The Virgin Suicides*. I just love me some Jeffery Eugenides. Oh, he's amazing...

DocHoc said...

I think my "fun reading" for this semester constitutes as reading the traffic signs while driving from one college to another :)

I've tried to sit down and read some Jodi Picoult, but I made it to page 3 before I have to put it down and do something with school...*sigh*