I dip in and out leaving a trail of books everywhere I go. On the side coffee table I have In Shock by Dr. Rana Awdish, a story about a resident who survives a serious medical emergency and goes on to advocate for a better healthcare system after the horrible experience she had. On the big coffee table is the September issue of Vogue and the December Issue of Vanity Fair. I’m halfway through both of them, picking them up only when I have a stolen twenty minutes in the middle of the day. On my desk is a whole stack of books: The Patient Will See You Now, An American Sickness, The Emotionally Absent Mother, and I Am Her Tribe, a beautiful book of poetry by Danielle Doby. The poetry book aside, these are books I have been told to read by other people. Namely, my old therapist and my boss. That’s not to say I don’t want to read them; I see the value in each. But if I’m being really honest, and I have no true reason not to be, these titles are not exactly what I want to be spending my precious little amount of reading time on. I put them on my desk, aligned left behind my laptop, and allow myself the courtesy of only digesting a chapter—sometimes paragraph—at a time. At the rate I’m going, I will finish all three of these books by approximately 2024.
By now you’re beginning to see how I read books and magazines. A little here, a little there. It feels mostly like I have no choice; books seduce me. The freshly printed covers, the feel of nostalgia that sweeps over me when I pick up one I’ve read before, the dizzying deja vu when I re-read books that impacted me, all of it draws me in like a moth to a flame. This is why I’ll often create a rule for myself that insists I not by any new books or borrow any from the library or friends until I finish the ones I’ve already started.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t force myself to suffer through books I’m not enjoying. For example, I just couldn’t get into Lit by Mary Karr. Phenomenal writing, no doubt, but I was slogging through it so I gave myself permission (and apologized in my heart to Mary Karr, a true literary icon) to stop. Lots of other books have fallen into this category, discarded when my brain and the words don’t mesh. One such is Moby Duck, a fascinating autobiography about rubber ducks lost at sea and the authors quest to find out what happened to them. I picked it up in the gift shop before we headed to a remote campsite for four days. I barely read it because we spent so much time hiking to fill our canteens with water that reeked of sulfur (if you don’t know what sulfur smells like, imagine a dozen rotten hard-boiled eggs. It’s foul.), to the beach, and to use the bathroom in the woods. I vowed to read it when I got home but have only gotten to chapter 2. It’s not the book; it’s me. These publications were underneath my desk, shoved up against the wall, until last week when I got sick of looking at them and donated them to the East Atlanta Public Library.
No matter how many times I invoke a book borrowing/purchasing freeze on myself, I inevitably give up (admittedly with very little persuasion necessary). It’s not that I mean to read some 20 books at a time (I haven’t told you about the six books beside my bed, or the five I’m shuffling through on my Kindle app.). I’d love to be able to focus on one book, finish it, and then start a new one. Orderly, just how my Virgo rising self likes it. Instead I am a true Gemini when it comes to books; to force myself to commit to just one at a time is a feeling akin to the ultimate case of FOMO.
There are days when I want to read Nora Ephron’s timeless interpretation of life as a woman. These are the days when my thirtieth birthday bubbles up in my throat and I need to be reminded of all the life that lay before me. Other times, I need to dip my toe back into StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli. This book made me want to be a writer. Then there are times when I bemoan my lack of formal education in or early exposure to classic literature and I tuck myself away into an F. Scott Fitzgerald. This doesn’t happen very often; normally I spend these fragile times looking at lists of recommended classic literature reads, observing the possibilities but ultimately turning back to my tried and true YA series, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, or a book by a white woman who has marginally overcome something and has decided to write a book hyper-targeted at young Millennials. (Next year, I am committed to reading more books by women of color. Jesmyn Ward’s new book Sing, Unburied, Sing sits atop my nightstand.) You can see my hunger for words is quite insatiable. Going to a bookstore? Forget it. I cannot go into Barnes & Noble without purchasing a book to add to my ever-growing collection. It’s also challenging when I see someone promoting their newly released book on Instagram, it is at the core of my nature to want to read about all of these people’s life stories, and the stories they make up for the page.
Occasionally I will get so absorbed in a book that I submerge for as long as it takes to finish, coming up only to eat and sleep. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera was one such book. Another was Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. It took me awhile to give myself the space to not be a read-one-book-at-a-time kind of woman. Now that I’m starting to embrace this scattered but purposeful approach to absorbing what I read, I see such value in this unpressured, unharried way. There will always be new books I want to read and old books I long to have a Saturday afternoon to dedicate to. I will always want and need to dip in for a spell, leave, and return another time. It is how my brain works, merging all that I am consuming into a creative fuel for my craft.
Often, I catch myself sitting in the feeling that I will likely never have the exquisite writing skills and style of the authors I so adore. The uniqueness of the way they each combine words and string sentences and spin the narrative of their story reminds me that I, too, can write in my own way. Pulling a bit from Karr and Franzen and King and Silvera and Didion and Lochner, I weave myself into the words that helped shape what I understand about writing and the world.