I’m a slow reader. And other meandering thoughts on a “sick day.”

The Book of Dads, edited by Ben George

The Book of Dads

It takes a sick day from work to be able to sit back in my La-Z-Boy and read a good book.

Today I returned to the excellent The Book of Dads, which I bought on June 9, 2009. I know the precise date because of two things.

One, I see that, in this collection of essays by writers on the joys and humiliation of fatherhood, the authors — including Steve Almond and Mainer Jennifer Finney Boylan — had crossed a line through or around their printed bylines and replaced them with their autographs, some wrote the date and “For Stan.”

The other reminder is that the occasional Goodreads newsletter reminds me that I started reading this book, the latest one tells me, 535 days ago, and I’m still not done. Ouch.

Life passes me by too quickly. I bought the book at a Brattle Theatre author panel on fatherhood, about five weeks after meeting the woman who would be my wife. Early on, we shared thoughts on the great works, and I had little to contribute to the conversation. She introduced me to “Cat in the Rain” by Hemingway, as well as other shorts she found in The Sun magazine, and countless others. My experience broadened.

The period of my life most dense with the written word was when I was in high school. I was a huge Trekkie Trekker, watching TNG every Saturday afternoon, to the disappointment of my father, who would have rather had me helping him outside. When he was at work, and I was home from school, I would consume sci-fi books as if I had finally found scriptures that ascribed meaning to my meandering existence.

So the classics were not on my casual reading list. They were meant for completing homework assignments and then forgotten, as they had no bearing on my life, living in a basement on a vacant farmland with a father who worked two hours away and came home on weekends not seeing any value in reading anything for enjoyment.

One day I felt sick and took a day off from school, a day that he happened to be home. I stayed in bed on that warm day, seeing his legs walk by the slits of the small horizontal windows, as I labored through the omnibus edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy.” I remember my dad not being pleased that I was not helping him work on fixing the derelict tractors or feeding the animals or chopping firewood. He must have sensed that I was not really sick. If I were really sick, I would not be able to read. He must have sensed that I stayed in bed because I did not want to help him. I did not want to be a farmer.

I wanted to be a writer. Back then, preferably of science fiction. My imagination flowed easily to the page then. Ninth grade English writing assignments turned into a space opera tome over the course of weekly installments, all produced on a Smith Corona electric typewriter into the wee hours of the night.

Today, I felt under the weather and took a day off from work. And I read. I read 50 pages worth of The Book of Dads, partly to get closer to the day to surprise Goodreads with a completion date. I also read “The Caves of Oregon,” a short story in Refresh, Refresh, by Benjamin Percy. On Big Other, I read my former teacher Tim Horvath’s fascinating essay on transparency in the wake of the WikiLeaks brouhaha.

And all the while, I had this uneasiness that I should not be reading, that nagging voice in the back of my head, sounding much like my father’s. The rough, rare voice that makes me feel guilty.

But I know this is part of the journey I must take. There have been many diversions already. To be a good writer, I would do well with reading those who have wrung out the words before me. To learn from their mistakes, to aspire to their insights. And while it’s true that I’m a slow reader, that it may take many passes over a paragraph to understand what I’ve just read, I know that I will get there in the end.

And that maybe I will be able to twist this wet rag and pour some insight onto the page again. I’m a slow writer, too.

6 Comments

  1. Stan,

    What a great blog to read after the class last night. I like your honesty and reflection in this piece ..and like that you already know you must getting reading again to feed your own muse. Keep going!

    Amy

  2. Thanks, Amy! I’ve done quite a bit of meditation in the past, so talk about reflection and “flow” and bursts of inspiration did not fall on deaf ears. My practice has waned over the last year or so, and I plan to be more aware of such things going forward.

    I’m happy to update everyone that I finally finished the book! (And I updated my Goodreads status saying so. Five stars to “The Book of Dads.”)

  3. Another reader/writer from Maine here. You mention BASS 2009, are you reading 2010? I’m going through it slowly, come visit A Just Recompense and we can compare notes. I could use someone to push me on writing, I’ve become writophobic lately following a bad experience with a teacher.

  4. Hi sloopie72, thanks for visiting and commenting! No, I don’t have Best American Short Stories 2010 yet, although I see Steve Almond, one of my favorite writers, leads the pack. I see you’ve begun reviewing BASS 2010, but I think I’ll wait to read your review of Steve’s story until after I read his first.

    What do you write? Where in Maine do you live? or have lived?

    • Hi Stan. I’m Karen, btw, I keep forgetting that isn’t obvious, I should do something about that, this blogging is new to me. Yes, I have commented on Steve Almond’s BASS story, but I’ve also sung his praises for his teeny-tiny book “This Won’t Take But A Minute, Honey” which I love, both the form (I’m crazy about these teeny-tiny books) and the contents, essays and micros. I’m looking forward to discussing all the BASS stories with you later on.

      I live in Portland, been here since about 1992. I lived in Boston and Quincy for about 20 years before that. I grew up in Florida and couldn’t get back to New England, where I lived as a child, fast enough! Give me the snow any day over that awful humid heat 10 months of the year.

      I’ve written a few flashes and short stories, and a few more more off-the-wall flashes (magical realism, surrealism) under a pseudonym. I’ve run into a bit of a wall lately; I took a class last summer that didn’t go well at all and I’ve been fumbling for words since, so I’ve been doing writing exercises (that’s why I started my blog in the first place) and reading until I get back to business.

      Nice to meet you!

  5. May I recommend Grub Street in Boston, if you’re ever in the area. It’s a nonprofit writing center that offers one-off nightly seminars, weekend workshops, and 6- to 10-week classes that meet once a week. It’s begun offering 5-day classes during the day, Monday to Friday, too, if that works for you.

    I had a pretty great writing summer this year, taking a 6-week class and 10-week class, both with instructor Tim Horvath. And Amy Yelin, who commented above, taught just recently an epiphany/memories seminar that I found helpful. While I haven’t written much since the summer, I do now have a dozen or so first drafts that I can pull out of the pile.

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