How about this for a novel idea? What if we took up novel-reading as an act of radical resistance against bobbing around like flotsam? What if we lifted our heads, arched our backs, charted our course, and embraced the water as though it were home?
It is a notion I have been playing with for a while now. Long-form reading retrieved as a form of resistance, as a counter-cultural act, and doubling down by doing so on paper.
Now, I’ll say first that I’m sure this kind of reading has not died. I am surrounded by readers online and in real life, and although while waiting at offices or outside of children’s activities, most heads are bowed down, eyes fixed on screens, not all are. I still see books, and as I have indicated before, I’m making a point to ensure that I’m in the latter group.
It is not easy, and I am nowhere near as addicted to the screen as others are. My use of social media is mostly to post news and images of interesting sights, but I hardly ever “engage” on any of it. Gazing, amazed, upon the trainwrecks of other people’s Internet fights may be one of my temptations, but entering them myself isn’t.
But picking up a book does take a level of intention that touching a screen to see what’s going on doesn’t, although once I find a good one (as I recently did with The Good Companions), the temptation of the screen fades.
And, as I said before recently, I’m working hard to do more of my long-form reading from actual books instead of the Kindle app. Not to be too dully repetitive, but again, it’s because I know I retain more when I read from pages, and secondly, I cannot, in good conscience harp on my kids about NO SCREENS and then…pick up the Ipad saying, “Oh, but it’s a BOOK.” Some people can, I can’t.
Now that summer is fading, night comes earlier and we come back into the house earlier, it is, I have decided, very important for me to have a book going. That way, as homework and housework winds down, I can settle in a chair, turn on some music, and open a book or magazine.
I am not alone for long.
We are not an atomized household anyway. Closed doors are discouraged and I am often, by the end of the day, worn out by the conversations. In the Charlotte Mason mode of homeschooling, something called “narration” plays an important role. That is, the child’s understanding is gauged by “narrating” back what he has read or what she has experienced. Narration happens orally at first, and then more and more in writing. When we homeschooled, I believed this was important but worried at times that it wasn’t happening enough because I wasn’t formal about it. Then one day in the car while listening to some lengthy explanation of something about Aztecs or snakes or Percy Jackson, or probably all three mashed up I realized…I get narrated at ALL DAY LONG.
Well, back to the present.
I discovered long ago the stupidly simple truth that if I want my children to do something the best way is to do it myself, or at the very least, be present in the area that in which The Thing needs to happen. So if everyone really needs to just be outside and seem at sea or resistant, I just take myself and I go outside. I don’t even have to do anything. If I just sit there and watch the hummingbirds, they will soon follow and after some narration about Mayans or sea turtles or Michael Crichton, they’re off in a tree.
So, when I sit in the evening with my book, in they come. Sometimes they come with a book themselves, but sometimes they come to talk, which is fine. Even if there is no dearth of conversation in our house, the quality of the work-is-done-evening-is-falling conversation is different than what happens in the car or on the fly in the kitchen. It has the same quality as the talks we used to have a long time ago, but don’t any longer, because they are older and don’t need me to lie down with them and read stories together to get ready for sleep.
What has been on your mind all day but has been too much to process in the busyness of school and the voices of peers finally settles out and comes together and the calm space in the center of the home invites you to speak out loud. The person sitting there holds a book, but it is just one book, just one voice, and she can easily put it down and listen to you and nothing will beep or ding and she won’t glance every minute or so in the direction of the rest of the world clamoring for attention in that weighty black rectangle. No, that has been put away, nothing going on in the rest of the world matters as much as you do right now, and trusting that quiet attentiveness, you can speak.
(This post was supposed to be about The Razor’s Edge, which I just finished last night. So much for that, and now I need to go to the store, exercise, and work on the new book. So…later).