D. and I are on vacation right now, and it is pretty frickin' fabulous. I spend much of my day sitting in this chair, looking at the view on the left. And then, at other times, I head out to the end of the dock and sit in those chairs in the picture below. Where I sit mostly depends on the sun, since I respect my fair skin and try to stay out of the direct sunlight.
But wherever I'm sitting, I have a book with me. I mean, duh, I'm on vacation! (I also go for a long walk every day and sometimes go for a paddle in the kayak if the water is calm, so I'm not just sitting on my ass, although mostly that's what I'm doing.)
And knowing this inclination of mine, I brought a whole box of fun vacation novels, mostly mysteries since that's my escapist genre of choice.
But here's the thing: After the first day, I piled them all back into the box, because I was having trouble getting into my escapist novels. I wanted to read something real, not something trivial.
I finally figured out that, with a view so beautiful, I want a book to read slowly, pausing frequently to gaze about me in appreciation as I sip my diet Coke (if morning), iced tea (if afternoon), or wine (if evening). And so I have found myself doing things like slowly working my way through Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own -- which I didn't appreciate at all when I gulped it down in college, but which I'm loving now that I'm taking lots of time with it and regularly stopping to mull over a sentence as I watch the beautiful lake in the changing light.
Escapist reading, on the other hand, sucks me in entirely so that I almost don't notice my surroundings. That's one of the beauties of it, why it's so perfect for a cold or rainy Saturday when one just wants to stay in bed much of the day, or a sunny summer afternoon when one doesn't want to think much at all. For me there's always something goal-oriented about escapist reading; I read it fast, and with the express goal of finishing the novel that day (or at most that weekend) because I can't afford the time to be sucked into a novel on the next day as well, since work awaits. Such escapist reading is almost the only way that I do any pleasure reading during the school year.
But apparently, when I've actually escaped my normal life and am in a place of such beauty, escapism is exactly the wrong thing. Who wants to be pulled into a novel so deeply that one misses this gorgeous view? (At night when I'm tired and it's too cool to sit outside, I'm still turning to lighter fare, but even then it's the least fluffy of the escapist novels I brought.)
Seriously, this week has been one of my best reading experiences in I don't even know when, the sort of experience that reminds me why I became an English major way back when. Except that when I became an English major, I was still all about gripping novels and didn't like poetry or essays much at all. Those are tastes that I have acquired later, mostly as a result of my teaching. So maybe it's more accurate to say that my reading this week has reminded me why I'm still an English teacher after all these years.
So then, here's the question: How do I manage to bring home with me this kind of deep, thoughtful, non-goal-driven reading? I have this picture of myself sitting of a winter evening in front of a roaring fire with a glass of port while I read poetry, but that has not tended to be how my life actually works. Among other things, I don't like port.
One thing I was thinking about was that, if I can wholly adopt a sabbath rhythm to my weeks, this kind of slow reading would be much more sabbath-like than getting sucked into a fluffy novel, which is fun but not actually restful. This past year I was already trying to claim Saturday as a day of not working, but maybe I could go further and make it a day of restful reading, which escapist reading is really not for me.
I have an English teacher friend who teaches in a public school and thus has way more students and grading than I do, and yet she is often rereading some well-loved classic novel as though she has all the time in the world. Maybe that's the way to go about it -- re-reading rather than reading. Since I already know what happens in My Antonia or the like (to choose just one novel that I loved reading and re-reading but haven't opened in years), I can imagine reading it slowly and with delight rather than racing through it, since I've always before read it for a class that I was either taking or teaching and thus had a deadline. Okay, maybe that's the thing to try.
You know it's been a good vacation when I am trying to figure out how to bring some of the experience home with me! Two and a half more days of this loveliness, and then we head back home.