Reading Saved Me

The last couple years have been … eventful.

Eventful, adjective: 1) full of or rich in events; 2) momentous.

He led a short but eventful life.

It was an extremely eventful period in American history.

I didn’t make that last example up, y’all; Merriam-Webster said a mouthful. It’s definitely been a wild ride here in the ol’ US of A. Some of us are shaking our heads. Some of us are wondering what hit us. Some of us are just wondering.

Some of us, when confronted with things we don’t understand, take to books for help with comprehension. You can see the progression of my need for edification on my reading lists for the last three years as I went from trying to understand the power of public media (and more specifically the power of anonymous—and sometimes not anonymous—public outrage) with Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed … to trying to understand the real people and the very real social problems that exist in my own community. (Sometimes it can feel like the Fire Swamp around here.) I read … and read … and moved from despair to empathy to scratching my head. I didn’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions drawn in the books I studied, but at least I felt like I understood the questions and the issues much better, and that’s the point, right? Reading saved me from unknowing. From ignorance.

As an adult woman making her way in the world for decades, I’d long understood the dichotomy that exists between men and woment in the workplace—what we might call male privilege. But there are other kinds of privilege, and though as a child of the ’60s I was firmly idealistic about the goodness of people in general, I’ve found recently I could be mistaken about that. (Gasp!). I thought I understood … well, I thought I understood a lot of things. But I had more to learn. By the time I was hired to work on Jennifer Harvey’s Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America last summer, I was well into reading about privilege and racism. (Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Margo Jefferson, even Trevor Noah got me riled up, and they’re just the big names.) Again, my reading choices helped me grow in ways it’s hard to calculate but the books I read have made me more articulate and braver about speaking up. Reading made me a better human. Reading saved me from complacency. And from apathy.

Also, perhaps, from the Cliffs of Insanity. :)

But there was more going on in my life. Some wonderful things like engagements and weddings but some hard things too. I had always read my way through whatever the day (or week or month) brought, reading whatever I’d thought I was in the mood for when I finished one book and opened the next. (Edification or entertainment? That’s always the challenge for me.)

But those hard things … were hard. One night I found myself lying in bed reading a novel—highly praised, well-reviewed and -awarded and not dystopian—that was unremittingly sad. (Why is so much literary fiction these days dark? Another post for another time.) The book was becoming a slog, I wasn’t enjoying it, and I lay there thinking that it simply wasn’t helping me relax or sleep or escape from the hard stuff that had to be dealt with and moved through.

So I stopped reading that book.

Instead, I opened a Regency romance by Georgette Heyer. You know how I feel about her, yeah? I’ve said this before: Heyer is a hoot. She’s witty, her dialogue is brilliant, and her details are well researched. She sets up a scene and then leaves it at precisely the right moment. Her vocabulary is exquisite. I fell in love with her romances in high school and have never, ever fallen out. I read and reread them, particularly during times of stress. Heyer is my comfort-food reading.

I’d been leaning on Heyer a lot in the last couple years, though, so the next day I asked my Facebook tribe—which consists of a lot of readers and writers and thinkers—for suggestions:

I need some ‘light’ (happy, funny) fiction, stat!

And they responded. Oh, how they responded! Everyone got into the act (some folks just to get ideas too), and the titles were being typed up faster than I could read the blurb and download them. A lot of them were women’s fiction or romance, which is not always where I turn for reading material (although over time I do sample everything on the reader’s menu). But I was happy to be led and encouraged to try new authors. And as I began to read these recommended stories, I did laugh. I did smile. As I had wished.

Reading began to save me from my overwhelming sadness. Reading saved me from the Pit of Despair.

When I finished the first, I opened the next. When I found an author I enjoyed, I downloaded another one of his/her stories. And in that moment, I knew I had to set aside all my earnest, edifying reading and just … let my pleasure reading carry me for a while.

I’m still reading light / romance / funny / happy. Oh, I’ll go back to the literary fiction I love (and the nonfiction too). I’ll finish that book I started last year and set aside. I’ll read the final (maybe?) Dave Robicheaux novel I bought on the day it came out. I’ll start that stack of nonfiction that awaits me. But for now, I’m laughing more and sleeping better. And I’m blogging again.

Reading saved me.

#MyReadingYear 2007–2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017





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One Comment

  1. And we are the beneficiaries.

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