I need to confess something: I have barely picked up a book all summer long.
Instead I have filled my days with friends, sipping cool drinks and brushing mosquitos away as the smoke from the grill tumbles skyward behind me. I have flown across oceans, hiking up mountains to discover waves thrashing
the bases of mountains, drifting off with my knees curled up into my chest in the front seat of a rental car. Some days have been a flurry of activities, keeping my body moving, my brain assiduous, my shoes covered in dirt and bug spray. Others have passed with the plucking of guitar strings in the sunshine or the dependable company of Netflix. I’ve fallen into bed at the end of these long days, happy and sunburned, with no interest in picking up a book. It’s not something that happens to me often. It’s normally an hour or two before Mr. Fitz taps me on the shoulder, bringing me back down to Earth, whispering, “It’s 11:30. Hand over your book. It’s time for sleep.” But these days, three pages is enough. The lamp is off before Mr. Fitz even closes his eyes.
It’s not comfortable for me, that feeling: of wanting to put the book down after just a few pages. It’s unusual to feel my feet so firmly planted while my eyes skim an open page. I can’t help but feel a pang when I glance at my summer reading piles, the to-be read and abandoned looming so tall over the finished. What does this mean? I fretted mid-June. What’s wrong with me? Am I burning out? Have I lost “it”? But I know that I am a reader. Deep in my heart, ingrained in my soul, with all of the bits and pieces that make me me
– I am a reader. I have been a reader since my parents answered my begs for “one more story” before bedtime; since my father and I passed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets back and forth across our McDonalds booth, leaving greasy french-fry stains in the corners; since I walked across the stage in my cap and gown with a piece of paper in my hands that gave me the power and privilege to spend my life reading and sharing and learning. With every breath, every sunrise, I am a reader. And I have learned that being a reader comes with seasons.
Some seasons are more passionate and feverish than others. I remember spending evenings in the closet of my childhood bedroom, reading book after book by flashlight next to a growing pile of candy bar wrappers. I remember the joy of reading in my early 20s, devouring novels on dorm couches or the floors of half-furnished apartments. And if some seasons are furious, some are contented. These days are comfortable, reasonable, picking up a book for an hour or two in the hammock in the backyard before returning to whatever the day demands. Right now, I’m in a slow season. My attention and my time lay elsewhere, and the books on my nightstand sit and gather dust. Stories that would normally captivate me can’t drag my mind away from the sunshine outside my window. And it’s okay. Because that’s the beautiful thing about being a reader – the stories will wait. No matter how many days pass between the last chapter and the next, my bookmark will be there, waiting for me. Their pages may curl and their covers will surely be covered with a layer of cat hair but my stories won’t tarnish, won’t cede. They will patiently remain, a series of loyal hounds lying by the side of the bed. When I’m ready, I will come back to them. And they will be there.
My students come to me now and again and report, “I just can’t seem to get into anything. I’m not really into reading right now.” They say it with such worry. And they are always surprised when I tell them not to fight it. I remember one sixth grader who stood beside my desk, eyebrows high on his forehead, waiting. “That’s it?” he said. “You’re not going to give me a giant stack of books or push me to try a new series?” “Is that what you want?” I asked. He hesitated. “You’re allowed to have a slow season,” I told him. I tell all of them. The world doesn’t have to be all force and hurry. Like all of the great passions in your life, your passion for reading will wax and wane. And that’s alright. Reading isn’t about turning the most pages. It’s not about increasing your speed or meeting the necessary requirements or competing in Book-a-Week challenges. If you are a true reader, no matter how long you stray, your heart will always have a home. It is my goal to create true readers, and that can’t be forced. So I tell them to take the time they need. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder. For some of us, it will take days to find our way back, while some may need years. We can’t always control our seasons. Wander with empty arms until you start to feel that ache that tells you that something is missing. See where you end up, and let yourself fall in love all over again. When the time comes, you’ll find that your stories will all be there, waiting.
This summer, I took my own advice. And earlier this week, I started to feel that pang. So I headed over to the public library, without a mission or a time limit. I just wandered: skimming, touching, leaving my mind blank. After awhile, I found a book that looked so interesting, I just couldn’t pass it up. And then another. And another. An hour later, I walked out that door with an armful of treasures, feeling renewed excitement and joy. I know that sometimes, it’s best to push through. But sometimes, you have to let yourself have a slow season. Go ahead. They’ll still be there when you get back.