By V. Jolene Miller
Reading on the Run
Binge reading on the run because everything else can wait.
ABOUT THE COLUMNIST:
I live in remote Alaska where I work 40+ hours a week at my day job, write novels, and own a pop-up book shop. In my spare time, I chase after grandbabies and go running with my giant puppy, Omar. Always, I carry a book in my purse. I never know when I’ll get a few minutes to indulge in a good read. Fifteen minutes before dawn, at lunch, bundled up in my car by the river, or right before falling into bed. Reading is my resting place.
I started drafting this column with the intent of focusing on how this summer vacation won’t happen due to a couple of recent, big life events. Like last summer’s trip that evolved into something else, so did this column.
Last summer, COVID-19 canceled our vacation to California. We ended up taking a two-week fall vacation to Galveston Island, Texas. While there, we managed to survive Tropical Storm Bertha. Not only was it our first trip to GI, but it was our first tropical storm experience. What a year.
Anyway, the weeks leading up to that trip were filled with changes that dramatically impacted my reading. I didn’t end up taking last year’s reading list (Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See) with me to Texas. Instead, I packed a few textbooks and hunkered down over the coffee table of that beach rental and studied. It was…interesting.
There was (is) so little time to get it all done! According to the website for the school I’m attending, the PhD program in education should take up approximately 20 hours per week. That means 20 hours to read, research, study for quizzes and exams, write papers, and reply and respond to discussion board posts. This expectation equates to the most basic of part-time jobs. Note: I have no data to back up that claim, except to say that I have found the typical 40-hour a week job to often take more than 40 hours each week to complete.
During the course of that glorious fall vacation, I had my nose in a (text)book for at least 20 hours each week. Right now, as I relish a one-month break from school (22 days and counting to go!), my mind is naturally on reading. I have a textbook (Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs) on my side table waiting to be read and a supplemental book beside it (The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind). I’ve read about 20 pages in each of them. I even read a few pages of the second book by flashlight in bed the other night!
Last weekend, I read Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks. I also read Backstories by Simon Van der Velde. Be sure to check out my interview with Simon in this edition of Shelf Unbound! But, I’m not devouring books like I may have in the past due to some serious eye strain and fatigue.
As I’ve endured a couple of eye exams, and the awful experience of shopping for glasses online, I’ve had to force myself to rest my eyes. As in, eyes closed and covered with a cool cloth while listening to sitcoms. (I know, I could have been listening to an audiobook, but my previous limited experiences with audiobooks have not gone well.) The challenges I’ve experienced have caused me to think about my ocular health. If I am pushing my vision to its limits, what kind of repercussions am I putting myself at risk for? Do I want to find out? Not really. So, although I’m typically cramming reading into every spare moment, I’ve taken a step back.
In my interview with Simon Van der Velde, he talked about the importance of remembering what it’s like to be a kid again, when your heart and mind are open to adventure. That’s what I’m doing this summer. I’m outside picking dandelions and tossing the ball to my dog, Omar. I’ve learned how to mow the grass and discovered I enjoy the feel of the sun on my face and shoulders while making the yard look pretty. I’ve enjoyed a backyard cookout with s’mores in a cone. And, I bought a tent for when my grandkids visit.
Sometimes, we have to take a step back in order to refocus. We have to take that time of rest so that we can recharge. I think this allows us to reflect on so many things. We get time to consider our past, explore opportunities for the future, love, friendship, and meaning. Instead of racing through life at breakneck speed, we’re humanized by our limits and our size in this great big world. Does that mean we stop reading altogether? Of course not! We slow down. We relish the words on the page, the character descriptions, and the glory of a solid plot. Or, we continue and listen to audiobooks!
Article originally Published in the August / September 2021 Issue: Summer Reads