Monday, June 14, 2010

The Season for Reading (7.11.09)

Summerbook I have a summer confession. Given the chance, I could read all day. Let the ants take over the sink of breakfast dishes, let the damp pool towels pile up; I'll be on the couch with my book. Talk about the lazy days of summer.

Spring has its cleaning; fall is all about preparing for school; winter days get filled with labor-intensive holidays followed by the survival mode until spring. Now we have time and ease. School-year obligations have disappeared. The children are happy at daycamp and their world of play has expanded to the yard, the neighbors, the sidewalk, the parks, the beach, the pool.

In the last month or so I've neglected a long list of projects,

but I've completed Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, (Fascinating stories of the five Best Picture nominees for 1968. Old Hollywood ideals clashing with the 1960's New Hollywood personified by Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Poitier), Lush Life (A random shooting in a gentrifying New York neighborhood throws together the law, new immigrants, street kids, boho slackers, wannabe actors and grieving family in a crime story told mostly in viciously true dialogue. The cleverest, most riveting episode of Law and Order you've never seen), A Mercy (Toni Morrison's latest novel about a cobbled together family of farmer, slave, indentured servant and found orphan in 1630's infant America. Terribly sad, written in lush and beautiful poetry), and Let the Right One In (The bestseller inspiration for the greatest Swedish child vampire movie ever made.)

Now I'm working on American Wife, a fictionalized version of the life of a Laura Bush-type First Lady that far surpasses its imitative premise. The new John Updike short story collection, released after his death this year, joined my growing to-read pile after yesterday's trip to the library. Hot off the presses, This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman arrived in the mail today.

Can you forgive me this indulgence? Should I even ask? Perhaps I need to rethink the guilty twinges that accompany my turning pages. Instead of thinking of my favorite pastime as a selfish escape from reality, I should accept it as a perfect accompaniment to the season. An enhancement of the summer air, light breezes and warm sun. A pleasure for your mind to balance out the joys your body experiences during this fleeting time.

And I'll go farther - I'd venture that my reading can be something truly important - even without writing a review or interviewing the author or even using what I've learned in concrete ways. Simply the act of reading itself can be immensely rewarding and a crucial step towards being a complete person. Meagan Francis has created the Mother's Hierarchy of Needs, a retooling of the landmark theoretical diagram created by psychologist Abraham Maslow. In Francis's version, the highest level of needs, those that give us self-fulfillment and a sense of being all that we can be, include "time to think, read and create." AMEN.

Reading something marvelous, and of course, each of us has her own version of this, is akin to the flow of creating something, like a great adult conversation, or a fine paragraph, or for you arty-crafty types, a beautiful object. When you're lost totally in the flow of great prose, laughing, gasping, weeping, you're involved in a vital creative process. That wonderful thing you are making? Meaning. Food for your soul.

The other day I walked back into the kitchen to find the open book I'd stepped away from lying on the table. Next to it was a glass of sweet green tea and a plate of blueberries. I had to sigh with contentment at the summer tableau. And then I went back to my reading.

"We had achieved (on vacation), maximum family compression, and could only henceforth disperse. Growing up, leaving home, watching your parents divorce -- all, in the decade since, have happened. But on a radiant high platform of the Eiffel Tower I felt us still molded, it seemed, forever together." John Updike, My Father's Tears.

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