I was a phenomenal reader when I was a kid. I went through a phase when I’d read while I was walking to school. (I walked slowly; I never ran into anything.) As an adult I didn’t read quite so voraciously – I didn’t have as much spare time – but I still read a lot. I’m a writer; it’s part of my job. But I find myself now at a point where reading just doesn’t fit into my day. I work three days a week for an advertising agency; the other two days I try to write; I have two small children. They fill up the spaces around work and on the weekend. By the time we’ve levered them into bed I’m exhausted and there’s just enough time for an episode of Mad Men or Breaking Bad or some such before I topple into bed (and the 1 am to 5 am wakes begin). I could read in the evening, but it seems a bit hard to concentrate when you want to unwind (and I do actually love telly). I could read before bed (as my partner does) except I’m asleep. Lunchtimes? Well, when I’m in the office I’m usually trying to fit in some lunchtime gym and when I’m home I’m working or getting shit done around the house. Which leaves… no time.

This week, due to a combination of circumstances which I feel almost too guilty to describe (it involved a tummy bug and both my children being in someone else’s care) I spent a whole day at home, not well enough to work but not sick enough to be in bed. So I read a book. And then I read another book. AND IT WAS AMAZING. The books were Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King, which I’m hoping to do a separate post on; but what I had forgotten, and this sounds ridiculous, was how incredibly pleasurable it is to immerse yourself in a book. They’re so long and rich and complex, and you don’t end up feeling gorged on cake, which is how you sometimes feel when you’ve spent an equivalent amount of time watching TV. I think some of the people who theorise about happiness talk about getting into a state of flow, in which all your intellectual and sympathetic energies are engaged, and you’re caught up in a complex and satisfying activity that fully engages you. I think that’s what books offer; and they offer it in a structured, shapely, elegant way that offers both an end-point (when the novel concludes) but also the possibility of continuing the experience, with the next book, or another book that offers similar pleasures. I came out of my day feeling energised and refreshed and hungry for more, more books, more experiences, more engagement, something which I know I’ve been missing for quite a while.

When you’re a parent – and I think this goes for parents of both sexes – it becomes too easy to close down the sources of pleasure in your life. That might be reading or it might be going to the movies (something else I miss) or it might be going to the gym. Small children need and want every ounce of your attention, and knowing that they won’t be small for long, you give it to them, at least partly because you don’t have a choice. It’s like living with visigoths. But my experience this week has reminded me that it really is important to try to find spaces for the things that give you pleasure, because they actually make you function better, both as a person and as a writer.

And in fact, one of the things that was so nice about my day was surrendering the compulsion to be a writer for a day and just being a reader. Worrying about writing, or not writing, can make everything about books seem overwhelming. Just being a reader again restores them to what they should be, a source of delight and pleasure, insight and solace. And if they end up being an inspiration too, then that is also good. But not really the point.

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