If I should have to refrain from one delicious pursuit, please, let it not be reading.
I’m picky about what I read in the sense that anything on which I spend my time has to be well-written. It could be the back of a granola box or the billboard on which I gaze from the window of a train bound for Michigan. A well-constructed advertisement, a nice little filler in the newspaper, a novel, a short story, the directions for my cleaning products. I stop reading when I hit a grammatical error or an improperly used word.
I’ve been known to walk through the house to discard a book in the trash if it’s so poorly written that I would not want to put it back into the stream of commerce. If I cannot get past the first paragraph of a book that I’ve borrowed, I instantly forget it exists, as my dear friend Cindy and several librarians can attest.
I find commentators and newscasters annoying if their grammar jars but worse is the poorly written word. If this counts as complaining, let me offset it: A finely crafted sentence can reduce me to tears. Words falling melodically, cascading, singing, lifting themselves to waft on the air. Oh what joy they can bring.
This fine passion, a gift from my parents during the tender years when I could not walk because of the inflammation in my legs, has never failed me. Reading brings me comfort when the events of the day plague me, and distraction if I cannot find a solution to a nagging situation. I do not hear when I read. A fire could rage around me. A baby could be screaming. I lose myself in the story, dining with the characters, standing at their windows, watching their children play and their lovers depart. Life can befuddle me; my own child might be troubling me; my own window might be streaked with years of neglect. Lost in a book, I have no worries. I am at peace, if only until, too soon, I reach the last paragraph of the last unread book in the house. My idle brain will startle with the knowledge that I have nothing left to begin, and I will pace, agitated; or scroll the offerings of online bookstores in search of something in which to immerse myself.
I have never traveled outside of the United States, nor even had a passport. Nor shall I now, I know; but in the books that I have read, I’ve seen Norway, and Sweden, and Paris. I’ve walked the streets of Seoul and scrambled over the mountains in Tibet. I might be alone; but I need only turn a page to find someone with whom to share tea in London and chai in Pakistan. This fine passion never fails me. I am grateful for those who write; and grateful more for the comfort that I have learned to find in the words they offer.
It is a fine passion, indeed; and one which I would be loathe to surrender. I am not sure that audio books could take the place of seeing the deftly grouped words on the printed page. So I shall devour what I can, as long as I can, and when I can see no more, I shall sit in my rocker, hands still without the page to turn, and remember everything that I have read. Those memories will need to sustain me, on that day — should it come — when I can see no more.