Don’t ask how I found this article. How does anyone find anything on the internet these days but by strolling around with their jeans rolled up, wading ever deeper into some endless grade of ocean, while never quite getting in over their heads? I found this article and it struck me hard as exactly what I’d want to see if I could peer into Ash and I’s future. Of course, Barabara Brotman does a fabulous job of bringing the vignette to life – I am sure the Wells must clean a little! I have vivid memories of my father reading. And my mother reading to my sister and I. And then of me, as a child and teenager, reading everything I could get my hands on. As Emerson says, “Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.” So if you don’t undertsand quite what I’m going on about it, maybe that’s because it’s too personal a feeling to explain. Regardless, here is the link and, perhaps against better blog-judgement, the full text of Brotman’s article below (so I don’t lose it). Happy Champagne Wednesday to you all!
As the warm weather continues to wane, I sadly bid farewell to one of the most beautiful sights of summer:
My next-door neighbors in their backyard, reading.
This strikes you as a minor sight? Let me explain. This is no ordinary reading, the brief leafing-through of a magazine or hurried go at a novel that passes for reading in my life.
My next-door neighbors, Charles and Sue Wells, are marathon readers. Hours pass, the sun’s position shifts, I do the grocery shopping and two loads of laundry—and there they still are, sitting in the same chairs next to each other on their patio, in complete silence and utter absorption. They have not moved except to turn pages.
The sight is so inspiring that I often stop what I’m doing and take out a book and sit on my own deck. Alas, mine is a pitiful imitation. Before long, I have jumped up to get a cup of tea or answer the phone. Then I might as well empty the dishwasher or start making dinner. And then I might as well give up. I try to read, but fail.
When the weather turns cool, the couple move their reading to their living room, in front of the fireplace and hidden from admiring eyes. But every summer I wonder how they read like that. How do their minds stay focused for hours at a stretch? How do they avoid being distracted by chores? What’s their secret?
I decided to ask.
We sat in their backyard/reading room, and they graciously explained. They love to read, and have made it a priority in their lives. Reading isn’t something sandwiched between the day’s events; it is an event itself—many days, the main one.
No guilt; no thoughts about what else they could be doing. This is what they want to be doing, so they do it.
Imagine reading not as what you do when you have a few extra minutes, but as a day’s destination. Not as dessert, but as the main course. Not as something to sneak in, but a planned activity. Immersing yourself in an engrossing story, turning your mind to see something differently—why should anyone feel guilty about spending time like that?
“You have to make a commitment to it,” said Charles, a history buff who recently added historical fiction to nonfiction and biographies on his reading lists. “You have to make a decision: Are you going to have clean countertops, or read? We’ve made that choice. I want to read and understand the world better.”
He made another decision, too, a few years ago: to watch less TV and read more. The proliferation of reality TV made it easy.
Sue kicked her reading gear higher when she retired three years ago as a special-education teacher. Now, with time, energy and no children in the house, she reads a book a week.
And she does not let housekeeping duties distract her.
“I’m way past the point where everything has to be perfect,” she said.
Their love of books runs deep. Charles owns a printing company that has published two books on the history of pipe organs in Chicago. Charles and Sue have collaborated on two books themselves, accounts of Boston cemeteries that Charles wrote and Sue photographed and designed.
Charles particularly loves books that challenge his beliefs, the way Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot” forced him to re-examine his lifelong admiration for John F. Kennedy.
“If you only read things that confirm your prejudices, you’re not going to grow as a human being,” he said.
That sounds like a pretty good purpose in life, not to mention a fine way to spend a sunny afternoon. Not that the couple confine their outdoor reading to afternoons. They sit outside at night, surrounded by citronella torches that keep away the bugs and beneath a spotlight that throws an excellent reading light on their books, and read in the dark for hours.
“It’s so nice to sit here listening to the cicadas and reading,” Sue said.
“This is our cottage on the lake,” Charles said.
And that is a lesson for me, as I hurtle through my days without even noticing that my vacation home is right here, just waiting for me to sit down, put my feet up, open a book and read.