Recently while traveling to Italy I was reminded of something I had learned several years earlier while living in New York City. A time before text messaging, when I would sometimes leave my cellular phone at home, and just read. I would read in Union Square, in Washington Square Park, on a park bench along the Hudson River or on my lunch break while watching the boats from Battery Park. In Italy I sat in Piazzas with a cool beer and read. Dogs running wildly, little children playing in a fountain. I didn't worry about appointments or bills or what time to be back at the office. I read. I read for hours, while the sun set and the street lights came alive.
In my early twenties there could be a storm outside or a light flurry, the red of tail lights would trail through foggy windows. I would sit and devour words. There is this strange sensation when you sit and read. The mind becomes clear, at least for me. These ideas present themselves, big ideas, things you are afraid to think about when you don't want to be distracted. And then those ideas vanish and there's a peace that settles. And you keep reading and then the imagination really kicks in. A city or a nature reserve can materialize in three dimensions.
I find myself transported to the world I am reading about. And I read and read and read. And when I finish the book, or it's time to go somewhere, I feel something, what I imagine the skydiver feels after he lands and hits the bar for some conversation. An exhilaration and a clarity that I don;t normally feel. Also, a level of inspiration and understanding of the world. Or at least that's how I perceive it.
And here's what this really is about. Sometimes you want to have a conversation, an interaction, and the real life one's don't fulfill those needs. Well, sitting with a book at a cafe, in a plaza or a park, a hotel room or in bed, these are the conversations I need to have. It is sitting with like minded people, or with people I look up to. It's an opportunity to see new parts of the world, new perspectives, experience emotions and situations I may never experience. And most importantly it puts my own life in context. Helps to sharpen my intellect and my wit and to help me write. It's reading for me that inspires writing.
So when I talk about the importance of sitting and reading, what I mean to say is that sitting and reading is as important as breathing for me. I will never be normal, this I know. I will never be at peace. But, when I sit and read for an hour or two I feel more like myself than at any other time in my life. From the day I moved into an apartment on Calhoun Street in New Orleans and sat on the front portch swing and read Hemingway, to this weekend when I say on my lawn and tore into some Murakami. I have made my best friends in the world while sitting quietly and reading. Kerouac, Miller (Arthur and Henry), Hemingway, Ginsberg, Vonnegut, Bolano, Carver, WH Auden, William Carlos Williams, Thoreau, Joyce, Thomas Wolfe, Joseph Heller and Carson McCullers and so many more.
Reading on subways, reading in bars, reading over coffee, over whiskey, reading over rainstorms and heatwaves, snow drifts on large acreages. I love to read. And I love to sit quietly on any type of day and read, finding a gentle peace that can only wash over me at these times.