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.