Friday, April 29, 2011

"Books are a refuge..."

"Books are a refuge, a sort of cloistral refuge, from the vulgarities of the actual world." ~ Walter Pater, English author

Like most writers, I've always been an avid reader. When I was a child, I used to spend lazy summers walking from my grandma's house to the library and back, arms laden with books, and I remember how excited I was to dive into those stories, to immerse myself in the words. I still feel that excitement and anticipation each time I pick up a new book--that wonder about where the story is going to carry me and that eagerness to become lost in the characters and their lives.

Every January since 2005, I've set a reading goal for the year. For the past several years, my goal has been to read 104 books, an average of two per week. The closest I've gotten was 102 books in 2005. However, even though I now have children and therefore considerably less time to read--I read mostly at night, choosing to stumble through my days on only four or five hours of sleep--I still average about 100 books a year. So far this year I've read thirty-three, and I'm nearly finished with number thirty-four.

I try to read a wide variety of books, and every year, I inevitably reread some of my favorites--Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, for example. More often, though, I prefer reading books that are new to me, books whose stories are still a mystery. And although I once used to read a book from start to finish, regardless of whether I was enjoying it, now I don't hesitate to set aside a book that doesn't hold my interest. In January, I wrote one of my 100 words entries on this topic:

I've learned as I've gotten older that life is too short to read bad books. I used to finish every book, regardless of how uninteresting or poorly written it was. Recently, however, as I've grown more conscious of the passage of time, I've realized I just don't have enough life to read anything but the best. I once heard that people should read as many pages as their age subtracted from 100 before passing on a book. In my case (age 38), I should give each book a 62-page chance. Sometimes even that seems like a waste of time.

Books are a refuge, just as Pater said. They've saved me so many times when life was bleak and I longed for an escape, a way out. A break. They've taken me to places I may never go and introduced me to the kinds of people I may never have the privilege of meeting in "real" life. They've made my life richer and more meaningful and have also taught me so much about the craft of writing, about how to engage readers and become a better storyteller. There's no doubt that my life would be emptier without books.

What about you? Tell me about your love of books, about what you read and why. What have you discovered about yourself as you've turned the pages?


  1. I like the quote a lot. If I don't have a book to read, I resort to reading cereal boxes and toothpaste tubes. So I try to always keep a book around! My favorites are historical fiction.

  2. I do the same thing! I read whatever I can find if I don't have a book with me.

  3. I'm with you ladies! I always like to be reading something, regardless of what it is.

    I read pretty slowly these days. I'm really happy when I average more than a book a month; this year, I'm delighted to have read an average of three books a month. Woo-hoo!

    I don't give a book too long before I ditch it, usually. If a friend's recommended it, I'll give it a few extra pages than I would've if I found it myself . . . but I usually know within 5-10 pages whether it's something that's going to suit my fancy. That's not to say the books I like are "good" books, because I've hated a lot my friends loved and loved ones they returned to me unread.