author the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
It’s only happened a couple of times in my reading life, and when it has, it’s always been a measure of great upheaval. It’s frightening to me; to others, I fear, it is a great danger. What I’m talking about, of course, is not-reading. It’s the rarest and busiest of days that goes by when I don’t get in my reading time, but when I don’t read, at least for a little bit, for more than two days in a row, well, that just can’t be good.
The worst outbreak of non-reading I’ve ever experienced was–let me count– sixteen years ago, in the wake, wouldn’t you know it, of a horrible break-up. I was reading Stephen Dobyns’s wonderful novel After Shocks/Near Escapes when the unnamable woman broke it off. Two months later, I finally looked over at my bedside table and realized that I hadn’t read a single page of that novel, or any other book. For TWO WHOLE MONTHS! I gave up the Jameson’s and the nightly marathon of Jeopardy, and got back to my reading. Just in time.
And a few months ago, I fell into the same thing. Not a break-up this time, but the dreaded arrival of contractors next door. These young men and their hammers and jackhammers–the new owner and contractor are one and the same–have completely gutted the interior and exterior of the house, and have revamped the foundation at least twice. There’s nothing left but the frame of the house, really. I live in San Francisco, and the houses in this neighborhood are literally wall-to-wall. It was the noise, sure, but the vibrations also, a disruption from deep in the earth. They deconstructed their new house as well as my reading life.
What I lost was my morning reading time. Our habit: I drive my daughter to school about eight, then come back and read for an hour or so with a cup of coffee before I head off into the day to do my work. I teach nights, so mornings are time off for me. And that hour of reading, snugged in the sagging, green armchair that sooner or later has to go, is the foundation of the day for me.
But it disappeared. I just couldn’t read anymore. I’ve kept up my reading through all sorts of noises and disruptions, but this deconstruction really did shake my foundation.
And I found that the work impinged on my other reading time, late at night in bed. I continued to read, but I wasn’t connected; I was waiting, oddly enough, for the sound of the deconstruction to begin again. So, I read without reading; I looked at pages and turned them, and actually finished a book or two, but took nothing in.
And got grumpy, and confused, and just not very pleasant to be around. It’s at these moments I realize how much my reading life grounds me. Why? Does it order the syntax in my brain? Does it offer relief enough from the noise of the world? Does it simply offer that orderly chaos you can’t find elsewhere? Don’t know; don’t care. I need my reading, and without it, I’m screwed, and so is, I’m afraid, everyone else around me.
Then, miracle of miracles, the deconstruction stopped. The house is still nothing but frame, protected by a black scrim and nailed up plywood. But it’s silent. Blessedly so. I read in the mornings, sometimes in the afternoons, and because of the new peace, my night-bed reading is back full force. I’m zooming through the books, and people smile at me again.
I don’t know why the deconstruction stopped–did they run out of money, are the permits all messed up, do they lack the will to continue? Don’t know; don’t care. It’s quiet, and I can read.
It’s obvious the work will start again, and probably quite soon, and that’s why I’m reading faster than ever. I’m trying to bank it. Trying to make the world, at least for now, a better place.– Lewis Buzbee