We are all in one big inclusive club. You, browsing through this blog right now, are in it. The club of readers. Be it articles, blogs, poetry, memoirs, instruction manuals, cookbooks or 700 page novels – there is some reason, something about words strung together, that draws us in.
On the high end of the passionate readers scale are the people in our lives who read books like they breathe air. I have a few women in my life who are voracious readers. One has several books going at a time, stored everywhere – her purse, her bedside, her living room, her car…. Another has an “upstairs book” and a “downstairs book”. And yet another reads so quickly her husband has said he can feel the breeze as she flips pages. These are the kind of readers who will recommend a great book to me, and by the time I’ve been able to start it, they have consumed 5 more.
When I was younger, I could read a few books at the same time, but now I read one novel (my preferred genre) at a time. But I do have other materials at the ready, like a collection of poems, and short stories, and motivational quotes and magazines – for those in between times. Do I whiz through them? No, I lack the available time to read as much as I’d like. But I’m never at a loss for something to read.
Most of us land in various other places on the passion to read scale, anywhere between ‘once in a while short things only’ and ‘don’t bother me, I’m tackling War and Peace’. My husband, for example, who would be one of those who would say “I don’t really read much”, will generally have a biography of a favorite musician on his night stand. He will pick it up once in a while, and it can take months for him to complete a book. But I often catch him reading technical manuals, or the newspaper, or flipping through a car magazine.
I don’t know if women really are more avid readers then men. I know there are you guys out there who love to read. But women are more apt to join a book discussion group, or to start a conversation with “what are you reading now?” or have long discussions about favorite characters and plots. A BFF and I each recently read Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. I finished it just shortly before she did, so we held off on discussing until she was done. One day we met to take a walk and after covering our usual catch up topics, my friend stopped in her tracks and said “Kya!” After which we happily commenced a thorough discussion of this amazing book, the key character, and how it resonated with both of us. Funny, I just don’t see guys having the same sort of reaction and discussion.
There is absolutely nothing like holding a physical book, glossy magazine, thick journal or folded newspaper in our hands. Yes, we have a zillion digital and electronic formats for reading now, and they each have their efficiencies. I am happy to have my kindle especially for travel, and to not keep my husband awake when I read in bed at night. And certainly, having a mobile device – phone, tablet, what have you – is ideal for catching up on news stories, articles and blogs. That’s likely how you are reading these words right now. But the texture, the weight – and yes, even the scent – of the printed word is something special, and opening that book or magazine for the first time is like opening an exciting gift, where the thrill of suspense awaits.
There is magic that happens when reading. There is something about how words come together to evoke emotion and imagination, how they can teach us new things, introduce us to the unknown, force us to see things differently, and take adventures that are deeper and more satisfying then sitting and watching tv or scrolling through yet another kitten video on Facebook.
Reading means escaping to other worlds. When I was a little girl, reading meant meeting animals that could talk, believing princesses were real, and joining other kids on grand journeys. Now as adults, from the comfort of our cozy chair in our homes, we can solve mysteries, have love affairs, get to know people we admire on a personal level, climb mountains, explore foreign lands, learn how to bake souffles or how to build furniture. For that period of time, we are somewhere else, maybe even someone else. We meet new people, and the characters and places become part of our lives outside of our day to day regular world.
It is no wonder than that during the past few months of quarantining and staying home, so many of us are reading more than ever. It’s not just because many of us suddenly have more time on our hands than we have before. It’s not just because we feel like we are going numb watching TV, or because we want to be a good example for our children. We are reading more because we need that magic, that escape, we need to explore worlds where COVID doesn’t exist and where people are talking about and doing different things. We need the stress reduction, and our brains and hearts need something else to focus on.
Those who have followed me here for awhile know why I started this blog originally. I was frustrated because there were no magazines or articles that resonated about real life for real women. They all seemed so ridiculously out of touch with what we all really deal with every day. But now I’m starting to believe that is the whole point. Maybe we don’t always want to see more reality. Perhaps magazines are serving the same purpose as a novel or poem or even a biography or historic recollection. They are providing escapes from reality. One RW in my life loves to browse home magazines. She often asks me “Who’s house actually looks like this? Like where is the messy laundry hamper?” I tell her those are not homes anyone really lives in. They are fantasy castles.
I could probably afford one of those fantasy castles if I received a dollar for every time I’ve rolled my eyes and groaned when looking through women’s magazines, with the air brushed beauty and outrageous accomplishments and the “perfect” lives. The other day I was catching up on some back issues of a few magazines I still receive. Most are cooking magazines, but a couple are the same women’s magazines I’ve always complained about and yet keep getting. In the May issue of Women’s Health there is a short feature about a woman who founded a cool sleepwear company (of course she did) and her completely unrealistic morning routine. She wakes up at 4:30am without an alarm (I do too, but it is because of a hot flash, then I go try to go back to sleep). She gets her two children up, dressed and fed at 7am. (There is no mention of temper tantrums, lost teddy bears or refused breakfast food.) She only takes 5 minutes to get herself ready because she showers at night and her hair ends up being “just the right amount of messy.” Who says that?? She packs a gym bag because she works out at lunch (naturally she has matching bras and leggings. If I’m lucky, I pack something that fits and isn’t torn or stained.) She eats yogurt and drinks spiced tea on the way to work (because clearly that’s all she needs to subsist on) and listens to upbeat music so she can “show up to work full of energy” by 8am.
And there we are. A fairy tale. A fanciful story of a woman who is nothing like the rest of us. I’m thinking now rather than get disgusted or frustrated about these magazines setting us up for unattainable life goals, I will just consider them to be like the stories I read as a child. I will imagine that the characters like this woman ride unicorns and wear flowing sparkly ball gowns while chipmunks and birds fold their laundry for them.
Because that is what we need more of right now. We need words to entertain us, transport us to places that make us smile, laugh, thrill us, surprise us, or take our breath away with hope and wonder.
So go ahead.. find your next escape. And join the club.