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April 25, 2008


There is nothing better in this world than spending a day completely sucked into an awesome book.

Somewhere around mid-2006 I realized I wasn't doing much reading. I was knitting and writing and working and commuting and carrying on ... but not much reading was happening in my limited free time. I didn't want to give up my commute-time knitting for reading so I discovered the audiobook and life was lovely. Exhausting, but lovely. And things have kind of progressed at that level, with me downloading all kinds of great books and lectures and finally I discovered podcasts and that is delightful, etc. And then I went on a little vacation at the end of March and found myself in a strange place with an ipod that was on the fritz and no TV. No TV! No ipod!

Whatever would I do?

Good thing I packed some books and I could kick it old school, me and the paperback. YES I JUST SAID KICK IT OLD SCHOOL.

I'd brought a few philosophical and self-helpish pieces I needed to read for research and I packed a Joseph Conrad I'd been meaning to read for oh ... 15 years ... because I am nothing if not behind on my to-do list. I also packed an Anne Rivers Siddons paperback (love me some paperback romance) and then there was the Jodi Picoult.

I SO did not want to buy or read that book. My friend Courtney has been telling me for a while that I needed to read something by Jodi Picoult because she's an author who writes prolifically and has a huge fan base and blah blah blah good for understanding the market. But every time I went to the bookstore I'd read the blurbs on the backs of her books and they all seemed so depressing. I am all about the feeling BETTER in my limited time here on earth. I don't want to volunteer and pay money to feel BAD. That is just crazytalk. This is why I stopped watching the news.

Oh, yeah. I stopped watching the news. It started by accident, really, not as a statement to the world or a life change or anything. The local news was showing a really wretched story over and over again on the TV and I just decided to avoid TV news for a week or so until it all went away because I was crying before work every morning about some horrible thing that had happened in some other state to people I did not even know. I thought, "Maybe I should stop watching the news in the morning while I'm getting ready for work. I can watch the weather channel if I need to feel connected to the traffic alerts." That's why I watched the morning news anyway, for traffic and weather.

There is no way to avoid the news entirely, of course, since the elevators at work show nonstop news all day. And WHY do we need TV in the elevator? Why? Is fifteen seconds of silence too much time alone, untended? All that screen in the elevator seems to do is shout nonstop about the election or polls or pundits and so before long I found myself stopping ALL my news watching at home, even the nightly network news. (Full disclosure: I do watch "The Daily Show" which is now my main source of TV news. I am so Gen XYZ123.) It hadn't occurred to me how much news I watch and read -- I am and will always be a newspaper girl, so to this day I won't even consider giving up the paper -- but that's reading, which is different from watching what a network feeds you, which is what I realized I had been doing for a very long time.

And I guess things went on pretty much the same in the TV department except in January I cut out the news. Then one day I was programming the Tivo to record the about-to-air new season of American Idol and it showed all the episodes coming up -- it was something like 36 hours of television programming for one show. ONE SHOW. And I sat down right there on the floor and on the back of the light bill I added up how many shows I watch a week and with "Dancing with the Stars" coming up and a new season of "Survivor" and you know I love my Oprah and add in some CSI, or The Closer or whatever... it came out to something like 45+ hours a week of television. Even if you skip through the ads and the boring challenges and the singers you don't like, people. THAT IS A LOT OF TEEVEE.

So I opted out of all reality, including Dancing and American Idol and Survivor and I cannot believe it -- but I lived to tell the tale. I am still alive. It is maybe a miracle.

And so anyway, back to the original thread of this story which started about 17 paragraphs ago, when I found myself on vacation with no TV and no ipod and no movies I started in on my pile of books. I think I read six books in five days and it was AWESOME.

Usually I listen to books in audio form while I commute and multitask. But it was awesome not to multitask. In fact, I am here today to share with you the truth: I HATE MULTITASKING. It felt decadent and delicious to sink into a good book and sit still and read, just get sucked into a good story and forget everything on the to-do list, forget all the worries and anxieties of real life.

And my friend Courtney was right to insist I pick up a Jodi Picoult book. I decided on "My Sister's Keeper" since they're making a movie out of it and I read on a gossip site somewhere that fans of the book were crazy outraged at the casting decisions. My thinking was any book that had fans so personally connected to the characters was the book to read.

And it sucked me in! The storytelling was careful, the characters were interesting and the plot was intriguing. I really could not pull myself out of that book, I think I stayed up half the night to finish it. I went online to amazon.com to find the link to it and I started reading the reviews and I was surprised to see so many bad 1-star reviews. This is why I don't read reviews. They usually have more to do with the person leaving the review than they do the book itself. Or maybe I just have less desire to critique books now since I know how hard it is to write one and I'm all, "Good on you for finishing this whole thing!"

Also -- did you know you burn more calories from reading a book than you do while watching TV? Seriously. That's scientific facts right there.

So what are you reading? Got any good book recommendations? Right now I'm reading Le Mariage because I love thinking of Paris and I think Diane Johnson is breezy, and on my soon-to-read list are:

Plain Truth - another novel by Jodi Picoult
Prep - by Curtis Sittenfeld (again, I am years behind on my to-do list)
The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 -- by Saul Friedlander

I don't have as much time as I like for reading, but I'm thinking that freeing the Tivo list of so many programs will help. I find it really hard to relax in the tiny spaces I manage to have for myself, and I guess it became habitual to use TV as a perfect way to zone out, calm my mind down. But books are good for getting my mind off the worries and to-do lists, too.

If only vacation were a full-time job and reading could be my full-time zen...

But hey, at least it's Friday.

Posted by laurie at April 25, 2008 2:00 PM