February has passed and March has begun, the world continues to turn, angling closer or further away from the sun depending on where you live. It is cold or not cold. Rainy or not rainy. Time passes, and somehow the desire to mark its passing asserts itself even when you know that minutes only matter to those that have clocks and calendars don’t change what happens outside your door one bit at all.
February has been a strange reading month.
I continue to read fewer books, and I continue to be glad I have done so. I have read, in total, three books in February. It has not all been intentional. Work has asserted itself, eating into the time when I would usually read and I have felt it. I have read fewer books but the focus hasn’t been there, and I have felt myself losing the thread of what I’m trying to achieve here. This, I think, is the usual arc of changing a habit into something more intentioned. Somehow the old habits reassert themselves, it is as though the mind senses a weakness, the degradation of good intention into something else: certainty, arrogance, complacency. It takes its opportunity to revert back to its old, comfortable ways. The nerve paths most travelled. The certainty of what we know, over the reward of breaking new ground, of making an intentioned choice.
I have had to remind myself, often, of why I have made this choice. I have discovered the challenge of declining the temptations of daily life, the things we are supposed to want, the sweet sting of desire whether it is for a novel experience or a novel writer, for the daily coffee hit or the annual holiday. When I’m harried or tired it is easy to think that a week away in a cottage somewhere would be just the thing I require, and yet I remind myself that what I want more than anything is to feel connection to the here and now, the house in which I live and the people and creatures that accompany me, whose lives and precious and unique and extraordinary, and who I am privileged to share a space and time with. Perhaps going away to a cottage, or a hotel, or a city or a country simply make it easier to appreciate who those people are, to spend time with them, but there is no reason why I can’t do so right now. Perhaps instead of sitting and writing this.
I write this to remind myself. I need to read, but I do not need to read everything. I enjoy books, but they don’t always have to be new ones. It would be so easy to slip back into old habits, but my new pathways are burning with purpose and I feel, for certain, that these new pathways will bring me closer to the world instead of shielding me from it.
In February I bought 2 books. I thought long and hard about doing so for the first one and the second was more of an impulse and I was disappointed in myself for submitting to it. When I bought my first book I thought about it for over a week and I explored possibilities for accessing it in other ways: library or borrowing. It was not available. When I decided to buy it, I decided that I would do two things: 1) I would support my local, independent bookshop and 2) that I would pay full price for it. Paying full price was a test. If I wasn’t prepared to pay full price, then I didn’t really want it. Discounts, multi-buy deals they cheapen things and books are not really expensive, though I know that is only really true for those with expendable income which I am fortunate enough to be. I ordered it via my local bookshop and on the Saturday I picked it up and by the window they had a display of the loveliest books – Pan MacMillan’s Collectors’ Library. My daughter and I looked at them for a long time, then left the shop. Then, later, my daughter asked for the copy of Peter Pan, which I was pleased to buy for her (she is not a reader) and this enabled me, permitted me, excused me, to buy the lovely copy of Walden which fits quite neatly with my reading intentions but which I already owned. I allowed the collector in me, the acquisitive person, to assert itself. The old pathways buzzed. I paid full price.
I have bought books, but I still don’t feel at the mercy of it. Something is beginning to change. I am not sure I am yet in the place I want to be, my focus is not where I would like it, but I am beginning to find it easier to challenge my habits, to not permit myself to relax back into my old ways, and I my mind is clearer for it. It is not always the case, and I still have much work to do, but I remain sure I’m heading in the right direction.
It is not just about books anymore, it is about becoming a fully present human being, not poked in directions by social convention or expectations, by advertising or habitual thinking. I no longer want to behave in a way which is determined by factors outside of me or by laziness. By this I don’t mean that I won’t be responsive to my children or husband, or that I won’t meet the demands of my work, but I no longer want to be driven by image or a desire for admiration or acceptance, because it is easy, the usual trappings of daily life. I read because I want to read, because I love it, but what I read has to be chosen be me, in a deliberate and intentioned way, and not because I am tempted by other people’s books, because I feel left out or out on a limb.
It has been a strange reading month, that’s for sure. I am not sure if I am satisfied or dissatisfied by it, but I am learning every week and as long as I continue to do so, it will all be worth it.