The Writer Who Doesn’t Read

This post is part of ChicagoNow’s monthly Blogapooloza Hour where a writing prompt is given at 9PM and bloggers have one hour to complete a post.  This month’s prompt is:  “Write about something in your life you’ve given up, but that you wish you still did.”

I used to be a reader, but now I’m a writer.  That sentence doesn’t makes any sense, but it’s my truth.  My sad and shameful truth.

A few years ago, wow — it might be ten years now, or even more — I met one of my writing idols at the Printers Row Lit Fest.  Jane Hamilton.  It felt like I was meeting a rock star / celebrity / idol all at once.  She had written some of my favorite novels (The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World among them) and was just so good.  So damn good.

I remember working up the courage to ask a question during the Q and A period after her reading.  I was talking to Jane Hamilton.  Me.  And Her. Talking.  It wasn’t actually a conversation, but, you know, we were communicating.  I made a comment that I wasn’t a writer, but that I was a reader and asked her a question about her process.  Pfft.  Kind of pretentious, but I didn’t care.  She received my question so kindly and remarked that most writers hoped for readers like me.

Afterwards, she signed my copy of The Book of Ruth.  It still sits on my shelf.

Evidence from the not to distant past that I was, in fact, a reader.
Evidence from the not too distant past that I was, in fact, a reader.

Reading was something I was always, always around.  My mother was a voracious reader and worked at the local library.  She literally read a book a day.  Even as a child I was a bit awed by her appetite for books.  My Dad read, too, though less frequently, as he was often trashed from the work day.  His tastes tended towards Irish history, Chicago history, and non-fiction.  Books were valued in our home.  We often took family trips to the library and lingered for a few hours.  I grew up knowing the value of the written word.

Somehow, after my daughter’s cancer, I lost my capacity to read.

I can’t concentrate.  I lose interest.  I feel burdened and overwhelmed by all the words on the pages.  At first, it was books.  Magazines like Vanity Fair and The Atlantic were still in rotation.  Now, even those sit on my bedside table, mocking me while they gather dust.  I am so sick of waking up to Angelina Jolie’s eyes staring at me from across the room every damn morning.  But I refuse to recycle that issue of Vanity Fair because I choose hope.  I choose to believe that someday the ability to read, to escape, to learn from another’s words will come back to me.

The eyes that stare at me, accusingly, every damn morning, "When are you going to actually read me?" Angelina asks, with a smirk in her voice to match the steel of her gaze.
The eyes that stare at me, accusingly, every damn morning, “When are you going to actually read me?” Angelina asks, with a smirk in her voice to match the steel of her gaze.

Do you know what a sham it is to be a writer who doesn’t read?  I feel like a fraud every damn day.

I miss it.  I miss it a lot.

Every six months or so, I pump myself up, head to the Barnes & Noble, and look for the book that will bring me back to the reading fold.  The relationship porn novel that will seduce me and bring me to that place that I neglect my kids because I must keep reading, turning the pages, hungry to learn what happens next.  I want to lose myself in the words.  I want to submit to the knowledge that this book and these characters own me for just a little while.

Yeah, I miss it.

Last month I read a book.  It was good, too, but not so good that I jumped into another one.  Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes.  Solid relationship porn, which always tended to be my favorite genre.  It was recommended by a few Facebook friends after I made the also bi-annual plaintive wail of “I no longer read, but I have the urge, what do you recommend?”  I was raised by Catholic readers, you see, so I feel the need to confess, clearly, my non-reading ways.

Like right now, I am imagining a huge confessional that hold thousands of you, dear readers, behind a metal cutwork screen.  I enter the tiny, tiny room, and I say to you, “Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned.  It has been 27 months since my last book.”

I miss reading.  I hope it comes back to me.  And fuck you, cancer.  Oh, yeah, and fuck you, too, Angelina.

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