My colleague minister the Rev. Naomi King (daughter of a famous novelist) posted on Facebook this week that this coming Monday, March 3, is Read across America Day. A reminder that had the potential to motivate or guilt trip me, not because of anything she has said or done — she is a voracious reader and composer of daily inspirations — but because focusing on reading was an expressed goal of mine as I entered this Golden Gap Year.
I can look back in my journals, my Morning Pages, my scrawled to do lists on purple sticky notes and torn out composition book pages, and document how frequently the notion of a more intentional reading life comes up. Reading, like I used to as a shy child, an only daughter, a freckled sallow misfit: anything and everything: Little House on the Prairie books, Little Women, my mother’s copy of Black Beauty. A Christmas gift of the newly published hardcover To Kill a Mockingbird and later The Diary of Anais Nin.
Airplane books (you know what those are), New Age books, how-to books, parenting and getting through menopause especially. All the college required reading books, the long list of books we were required to read in order to become credentialed as Unitarian Universalist ministers. Sermon prep books in a tradition that expects thick sourcing for our 25-minute weekly discourses, not just bible exegesis.
I am surrounded by books: in my spare room, in my guest room, in our bedroom — three shelves of them. In baskets in both bathrooms where old copies of Rolling Stone and Tikkun magazines are tossed in with damp novels and books of essays on wrinkled necks and hot flashes. There are books stashed in the plastic remote holder to be read during commercial breaks. There are books in canvas bags, books in the back seat of my car, in the trunk waiting to be donated, if I can only get myself to part from them.
I have at least 40 full length and mini books stored on my Kindle, and after having rediscovered my library card and the benefits therewith, I usually have an audio book to listen to as I travel or even cross town, from the silly — Tatum O’Neill’s confessional — to the really superb The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, in which he recounts the conversations he had with his dying mother, sparked by books, about her life and his.
Yet my quite possibly unrealistic goal for this year after leaving fulltime ministry, now seven months in, of reading and commenting somehow on a book a day is unrealized. And I still find myself reading for preaching, even sermons that may never be written or delivered, more often than not. Not the random reading, the reading for the sheer hell and pleasure of it, I had hoped for.
Then a thought and a possible project (in this project-filled after-regular-paycheck work I am coming to terms with): Finding my books, taking my literary direction from Little Libraries. The basic premise of this national phenomenon is that a box is put up in a public place, a kind of cross between a mailbox and a bird house, in which people anonymously donate a previously purchased and hopefully read book. Anyone can take a book, either returning it or exchanging it for another. In my small city of Decatur, Georgia, home to the Georgia Center for the Book and the Decatur Book Festival, attracting 80,000 plus attendees every Labor Day Weekend — there are city purchased and privately funded or constructed Little Libraries all over town.
Why not, with some planning, visit every Little Library, borrow a book, give away a book, and use this as the source of my reading menu? Why not photograph them, leave messages behind about which books I read, which I loved, which I could not get into?
There are healthy walks in this endeavor, a new way to explore and understand my neighborhood and beyond. Let alone perhaps unexpected treasures.