Musing, I

When I’m planning my next several days or answering the question, “So what’s on your agenda today?” or some variant thereof, “reading” is always in the set of possible responses. Reading — whether it’s the Guardian online, an article about Emery’s use of the 4-3-3, Adorno, Ashbery, the London Review of Books… you get the idea — is as necessary to me as water. Without having something to read, I’d become like one of those desiccated earthworm corpses one finds glued to the pavement following a vigorous rain.

Once, when I was on a particularly grim psych ward (though “grim” and “psych ward” pair well together for any number of reasons), I had had the forethought somehow to bring a pair of books, thinking that at least I’d be able to keep my brain distracted as the interminable days shuffled by. What I hadn’t considered was that hardcover books, which these were, would not be allowed, and thus were considered contraband. I was annoyed and disappointed, to put it mildly, but figured at worst, I’d at least be able to read the Bible or People etc. This was not the case. Or, at least, sort of not the case; the previous occupant of my side of my room had left behind a Gideon New Testament and Psalms. I thought, “okay, not ideal, but it’ll make the time pass.” The problem was that this particular edition was in Polish, of which I know not the slightest bit. So desperate was I for something to read that I laboriously read and reread and reread the bits that I knew well enough in English to be able to work through in Polish — the nativity in Luke 2, the Sermon on the Mount, and Psalm 23.

Yet often when thinking about that question, I phrase it to myself or reply to another that “I have to get some reading done.” Now, there are occasions when reading is something that “has to be done,” for a class or a job, for instance. But when I catch myself thinking of reading something I’m not obligated to read as an item on a checklist, I realize something’s gone seriously wrong. Reading is a privilege that not that long ago in human history — and still in many parts of the world — was not available to most, whether because they could not read, access to reading material was severely curtailed, or because literacy itself was viewed as a threat to those in power (and rightfully so — a little learning may be a dangerous thing, but that can be read in ways other than Pope intended). Reading is a gift, words weapons that can topple empires, tools one can use to ascend to any height, treasures to soothe the soul, comfort the grieving and weary, praise, critique, inspire, formalize, and so on. Reading is a treasure.

Reading is a pleasure, not a task. When I look at the hundreds of books and periodicals around me, I see the only tangible property of mine that I truly value. Reading is not something that has to be done; rather, it’s something I get to do.

~ by Benji on September 15, 2019.

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