Reading for the First Time After a Drought

October 13, 2021 § 7 Comments

By Holly Hagman

The heat of summer still sizzles on the pavement outside when Mom asks me to pick up the sandwiches she’s ordered for lunch. Having slept in, I am still in my pajamas, braless, shorts and flip-flops, clutching my coffee mug in my fist. Despite the warmth outside, I throw the nearest hoodie on top of my sleep-wrinkled clothes and drive to the sub shop. The cool wind from the air conditioning hits my face, and I finally breathe. I walk over to the refrigerated cooler to grab a bottled iced tea when an older woman scratching a lottery ticket looks up at me and smiles.

“Me too,” she says, the noise of her nickel against the table clattering in my ears. I stare at her, confused, under-caffeinated, and hot. She points at my sweatshirt. I look down and read the words in bold blue print: “Book Nerd.” I smile back and nod, grabbing my iced tea and the sandwiches before I check out, leaving the woman and the lie I just told her behind me.

Honestly, at the time this exchange occurred, I hadn’t read a book for pleasure in months. With the required readings for the English classes I teach and the general state of the world, sitting down to read a whole book often resulted in fidgeting, examining the same paragraph for what seemed like hours, then shutting the book and ultimately watching Brooklyn 99 on Hulu for the second time. My brain was already stuffed to the brim with quiz questions to make for Death of a Salesman, vaccine appointment dates, and whatever drama had been trending each day on Twitter. Consuming – and retaining – a new novel or memoir was liable to short-circuit my already fried nerves and cause a total system shutdown.

So I finished Brooklyn 99, and The Good Place, and most of Bones before selecting a hardcover memoir from my TBR pile, grabbing a bookmark from my desk drawer, and starting to read again. Just like that, it was like rekindling a relationship with an old friend. I felt the texture of the pages between my thumb and forefinger, inhaled the scent of the ink, and sighed. It felt like coming home.

Now, I wear my “Book Nerd” sweatshirt fairly often. I wear it when I run to the store, watch a movie, cook dinner, and, increasingly, when I read. I still get sucked into television rabbit holes (don’t even get me started on 90 Day Fiancé) and the books on my shelves continue to multiply, but I take comfort in the fact that we can take a break and still find our way back together, that they will always be there, pages fresh, spines ready to be cracked, quiet and waiting.
____

Holly Hagman is a teacher and writer from a small town in New Jersey. She graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with her BA in creative writing and her MAT in secondary education. She continued her studies, earning her MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairfield University. She has been an assistant editor for Brevity, the nonfiction section editor for Causeway Lit, and is currently a nonfiction editor for Variant Literature. Her work can be viewed in The Citron Review, Complete Sentence, and Porcupine Literary. She enjoys collecting coffee mugs and napping with her cats.

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§ 7 Responses to Reading for the First Time After a Drought

  • Margaret says:

    Well Holly,
    This post certainly resonated with me minus the tee shirt.
    A few months ago I bought a couple of books in Heart Research charity shop. One of the fiction books was by Melvyn Bragg and I had a quick look and thought ‘ooh this looks good’. At home a few days later I discovered the book was the third in a trilogy ( I hadn’t for some reason read the back cover). I finished the book and somehow guessed who was who. I ordered the other two books from our local library and, as you said, it was like meeting an old friend again. I have renewed the books several times and finished the second book.

  • Loved this! MyTBR pile keeps growing, but books are always there like old friends, comforting and familiar.

  • I just gained my first library card in a couple of decades. There was no free public library near my home, but now I can check out books from the Portland Library system. I am most of the way through “Staying Awake While We Read,” a 2007 essay by Ursula K. Le Guin.

  • kjboldon says:

    What memoir brought you back?

    Even when you weren’t reading, you were in books, though! For me, reading is escape and solace, so I tend not to go through bookless periods, but I’m not a lit teacher (yet). I can relate to how picking up a book when books are work is just a bridge too far. When my kids were small, friends and family and sometimes doctors would suggest parenting books, and I simply could not read them. I gave them all away. When I was in grad school the first time and pressed to read, I had a book group, and read comic books so I got one novel a month and weekly comics as pleasure reading. I’m getting my MFA now, and always have several books going: one poetry, one craft, one for fun, and often one for class or a project. Learning to read poetry, and reading it daily, had helped strengthen my reading muscles.

    • As a high school English teacher who taught full time while gaining my MFA in fiction, I read about 70 books a year, including the works I taught and reread. I was well ahead of the requirements of my program in terms of reading. Looking back, I find it amazing that I was able to do that. The only break I gave myself was not writing every assignment I gave with my students because I was writing so much for the MFA. I posted my craft essays on my classroom wall. Even I was impressed…

  • I can’t tell you how much your essay comforted me, Holly! It’s, as you write, “the general state of the world” that has stunted my attention span and driven me to scrolling my phone screen, streaming “Ted Lasso” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and doing crossword puzzles. You reminded me I’m not alone, and the book nerdiness will survive! It can’t return too soon – my TBR stack is teetering.

  • pegood59 says:

    I can relate. The past six months I have had a hard time finding something to read. My attention had been on the “state of the world””. Finally forced into down time while recovering from knee surgery I am finding books to read which I am enjoying.

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