A Life Without Reading by Franki Sibberson
“Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity…we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”
Do you ever wonder how nonreaders spend their time?
I never really understood people who complained about bed rest or time off work as I imagined catching up on the to-be-read stacks that seem to get taller and taller each day in my house. I have spent a great deal of time fantasizing about snow days that would grant me extra reading time, weekend days with no work to sneak in an extra novel or blog post or professional journal. But, never in a million years did I imagine a day without reading. So, imagine my shock when in February, I was diagnosed with a concussion and was put on “brain rest.”
The concussion story is a long one with lots of puzzled doctors and headaches as the weeks stretched into months, as did the “brain rest.” For those of you that don’t know much about brain rest, it pretty much means almost no reading, writing, screen time, or thinking. I was on complete brain rest for several weeks, and then lots of brain rest for several more weeks. You can only imagine what that does to a reader. And, no, I could not listen to audio books. The amplification of the sound gave me headaches.
Here’s the thing. There are terrible things that happen in the world. People go through awful, painful things and I knew that brain rest was minor compared to the trauma others experience. I tried to stay positive. I tried to make the best of it, because I understood that it was an annoyance more than anything else. I would be positive and find ways to fill my time happily. I would discover what it was that nonreaders do.
I quickly realized that I have no idea what the rest of the world actually does. When you take reading away from me, I have absolutely no idea what to do. Over the years I have tried to find hobbies. After a morning walk, a cup of tea, and some cleaning, a full day lay ahead of me — an empty day with lots of books that I was unable to read.
What does someone do who does not read? Not only could I not read the books on my stacks, but also I missed, “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?”. I missed Poetry Friday. I missed #titletalk and I missed the daily voices of my friends on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, sharing their lives and their reading.
I attempted some crafts, carefully choosing small projects, as I did not want to commit to a craft I would have to finish once I got the go-ahead to read.
My mother visited weeks into my “brain rest.” A huge stack of books had accumulated on the coffee table in the family room. My mother is very helpful and likes to clean. She said, “Where should we put these?” I responded that I liked them right where they were. She looked at me as if to assess my mental state—did I realize that I was not allowed to read and that these would be sitting here for a very long time?
The funny thing about that moment with my mother was that I realized that throughout my “brain rest” I had continued to live my life as a reader even though I could not actually read. My life has always been and will always be wrapped up in reading. I continued to stack books around the house. I continued to order books, visit bookstores, talk to friends about books and decide on which books I’d read next.
I really don’t remember a time in my life when I was not living with a character’s story. I seem to always be living my daily life, while in the back of my head worrying a little about the character whose story I am in the middle of, and to live without that meant a little grief about what I was missing. Those stacks of books on the coffee table gave me some sense of living a life filled with books, even though I wasn’t reading.
There is very little I do that is not connected to books. Most of my friends are readers and they had no idea how to support me, so they too imagined what I might do with my time. Well-meaning friends sent cards and things for me to do to fill my time—imagining what people who don’t read do—things I might have time for since I had so much time without reading–plants to grow, nail polish, spa gift certificates, even finger puppets. The gifts of readers imagining what they might do if they had to live a few weeks without books.
At one point this spring, the doctor told me that I could read for 15 minutes each day. Oh, the joy! I am not a 15 minute-a-day reader but I would learn to be. I am a reader who loves to read a book from cover to cover in one sitting, but I decided to read The Center of Everything and I so appreciated stretching this story out and living with these characters over many, many days (15 minutes is not so long). Experiencing a book over a long period of time is a unique experience.
When I was finally released of all reading restrictions, I was elated. My stacks of books were waiting. I drove home from the doctor’s office thinking of all the crafts I had started that would never be finished because I was able to read again. I figured that I would shove them into a drawer somewhere and read all day and then continue through the week, doing nothing else. I started to read The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. But, when I began reading, I realized my stamina was shot. My first thought was, “This is a long book.” And my second thought was, “I can’t believe I even had that thought!” Even though The Real Boy was a book that I was dying to read (and that I ended up LOVING), the length was challenging after months of nonreading. I had never had such a long break as a reader and I think this break in stamina might help me be a bit more patient with my readers this fall who may have taken a reading break over the summer.
I’ve learned a lot as a teacher. I think this break from reading will help me understand my students in August—those who didn’t read much during the summer months. It may take them a while to build stamina. I’ll be able to relate to the fact that deciding which book to read next may be a bit overwhelming when faced with so many choices. I have learned that even fifteen minutes of reading a day is enough time to fall in love with a character. And I know that months away from books does not mean that you are no longer a reader. Even though my incoming students weren’t on official brain rest, they may have been on a reading vacation and that’s okay. I’ll know that there is still a reader in there.
Above all else I realized how lucky I am to be a reader. Those first few weeks when I was trying to stay positive, I felt I had lost my whole being. My concussion helped me lose a lot of the guilt I have over how much I read. As a working mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, I often feel like my life as a reader is the selfish part of who I am and I’ve always had some guilt about that. But my weeks without reading helped me to realize that being a reader is who I am—it is who I am while I am also a mother, teacher, sister, friend, daughter and wife. It is one reason I have this life that I love. My weeks without reading helped me appreciate more than ever my life as a reader and all that goes along with that. I’m so happy to have it back, as well as the community that has grown up around that reading life.
You can take the girl out of the reading, but you can’t take the reader out of the girl.
Franki Sibberson (@frankisibberson) is a 3rd Grade teacher in Dublin City Schools. She blogs at A Year of Reading (readingyear.blogspot.com)