Before I even looked out my window this morning, I heard the storm outside. Above ground subway service was suspended, and just like that, the New York City MTA had officially given me more snow days in one winter than my small, center-of-Pennsylvania college had given me in four.
Last night I pulled A Moveable Feast by Hemingway from my bookshelf and placed it on my nightstand. I’ve been in between books, bouncing around because I can’t seem to get myself into any of them enough to read with the fervor and urgency that I crave in a book.
Luckily, my favorites are nearby. My mom shipped the last box of books from my childhood bedroom in Ohio to my apartment in Queens just last month. I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we're all here now, under this roof.
There is something soothing about re-reading old favorites, books that feel like long-cherished comforts. Before this book made its way onto any of my shelves, it belonged to my mom in college. Each time I open it, I'm intrigued by the parts she underlined. What was she thinking? What did this mean to her then? What would it mean now? I read into each word, and the passages hold an undeniable weight, even if they’re not the ones that I would have picked out on my own. What I love most is the thought of my mom holding the book, reading it for class or for fun or for no reason other than finding it on a shelf somewhere and having the time to do so.
A friend of mine said to me this morning, “I'm jealous, you read SO much!” but I had the sudden realization that I rarely read uninterruptedly like I used to. Technology has robbed me of my attention span, ruined my ability to really lose myself in a book. Because reading is such a big part of who I am, this caused me to immediately panic. There was a time when I would sit down with a book and become so immersed in what I was reading that thinking of anything outside the confines of the pages was unfathomable. I never felt a pull toward my phone or the need to complete small one-off tasks in between chapters. I'd sit with the words for hours and it would feel like no time had passed.
Lately, no matter how much I want to relax, I find myself distracted beyond measure. I want to slow down, but I feel the need to be doing a million other things. More often than not, I find myself wishing for a slower pace of life, for life to take it down a notch or two, for a more sustainable, soul-energizing way of being. Instead, I hear, “if you’re not doing something all the time, what are you really doing with your life?” on loop in my mind as soon as I put away the to-do list and attempt to sit in quiet. But the weight of expectation, comparison, and self-criticism is heavy. It’s exhausting, and I have to constantly remind myself to set it down. To let it go. To refuse to carry what isn’t mine.
I came across something recently that read, “busy does not equal worthy” and it shot straight to my heart, took a stronghold there, and hasn’t left since. So with a snow day before me, I set out on the mission of re-training myself to get lost in a book, to unlearn busyness, if only for today. And it worked. I read half of the book this morning with a cup of coffee and the other half this evening with a glass of wine. I didn’t look at the clock or check my phone, even though I considered it once or twice. What could possibly be more important than this, this right now that I was living in? Reading a book in a day used to be nothing out of the ordinary for me, especially in middle and high school. There was nothing else that I needed to be doing and every summer reading challenge and English teacher I'd encountered encouraged me to spend hours on end alone with a book.
In allowing myself to do nothing but read, without a time limit or impending agenda, I found a little bit of home within myself. In A Moveable Feast , I found comfort not only in the words, but in knowing that the physical book that I was reading from had a history of it's own. The story is simple enough, there is no extravagance. It tells of the life of a writer during a particular time, in a particular place, who prefaces it all with, “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact" and it’s those words that hook me every single time.
Hemingway writes, “Hunger is good discipline.” To be hungry is to be alive, to have a purpose for living. Because we are humans, we are hungry. And so, we can rest —w e have purpose. I don’t foresee an end to my hunger, an end to the heart-expanding desire that I feel to draw close to the words and books that I love so completely. These words that bring love and energy and reassurance time and time again.
And it’s good to know that the ability to get lost in a good book comes back as soon as it’s called, like second nature; easily, and with soft familiarity.
It’s good to be hungry.