Something amazing happened to me today. I finished reading a book! Never mind that it took me two weeks and it was only 90 pages long: it’s still a book, and by a classic Italian author, Cesare Pavese, at that. But I had to build up to this mammoth accomplishment. The last reading I completed before that was a National Geographic article on royal incest in ancient Egypt. Before that, it was an online piece on cat alopecia. Before that, the most I could read was a shopping list. And I had written it myself. So you can see how far I’ve come.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to have time. Time to gaze at the breaking surf and pluck my eyebrows and make lasagna from scratch and read things like books. Or even do something outrageous like make lasagna and read a book at the same time. OK, so I was never as good at this kind of multitasking as my stepmom, who can speed-read 23 pages in the time it takes to nuke nachos, or read a novel while watching a DVD movie and afterwards be able to write a review on both. No, I don’t claim to have ever been this talented a reader, but whenever I did find a book that was too good to put down, I’d read it in bed and over breakfast and even in the car stopped at red lights. Now at red lights, I’m busy groping around in the backseat for a dropped stegosaurus or pulling sunflower seeds out of my hair.
I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself, though, because I did read two books over the summer vacation – a whole one in June and another whole one in July. But then that wasn’t real life because there were two grandmas and four cousins around, a big dog who didn’t mind being ridden like a pony, fireflies in a fenced-off garden and three cooked meals a day. Real life with a toddler at the bottom half of the globe is so much busier, even more so than life with a newborn was. Now I kick myself that I didn’t read more back then, when the little guy had to have a nap every two hours.
Oh, but I did read then and how! Fascinating books with titles like Baby Owner’s Manual and Life After Birth. Or Good Night, Sleep Tight and Sleepless in America. But not only did I not reap any pleasure from these books, I didn’t get any more sleep either. During that trying time, the one novel I read (for a book review) was no less painful than being woken up five times a night by a screaming infant. Nicholas Sparks – let me say no more.
My Italian friend has a newborn and two other children under four and she still reads books. She is my new god. So is my German friend, who belongs to a book club and reads a tome a week despite having a toddler and a puppy and being seven months pregnant. I’ve set up an altar to these women in my home.
The worst confession for a wannabe writer is that they don’t read. Writers are always pictured in their book-lined offices, looking pensively and meaningfully into the lens. If I were photographed in my office, in the background there would be unfolded laundry, a plant that desperately needs watering and yes, a few books too, desperately in need of a good dusting. Clearly I can read. I have read. Sometimes lots.
I live in the hope that one day I will be able to read again. I fantasize about lying on the sand under a palm tree reading a novel so thick I can crack coconuts with it. And once I’m done with that book, I’ll start the next one lying in bed under the mosquito net. When I’m too sleepy to keep going, I’ll call out for someone to bring me a bookmark. The maid will bring me one, along with a virgin piña colada and then, before leaving for the night, she’ll fluff up my pillow. Never mind – I’ll think to myself – I can finish my book in the morning, over a plate of scrambled eggs and mango slices at the breakfast buffet.