Friday, September 24, 2010

Bedtime Reading

At different times in my life I have been an avid reader before going to sleep. As a child I was read to and as a parent I continued the practice of reading to my children before going to bed. I now rarely engage in that practice. I read before going up to bed but hardly ever read while in bed anymore. I do have a number of my favorite books stacked on the shelf just to the right on my headboard. And I will sometimes crack one of the books to read a few familiar lines prior to turning out the lights. I think I do so to just settle myself down and to relish those familiar few lines or paragraphs. I also think that when I do this I’m looking for some new insight into what the writer has provided me. Some new way to view both the written word and my own perception of how I see those words in relation to whatever is going on in my life.

As the reader I’m hoping to find one more nuance in the text. With some books there may really be nothing more to find. When the text reads, “Terrible pain. There was something snapping at my feet, something with fierce sharp claws.” You get the point. There doesn’t seem to be much more to get out of it. I’m also not looking to discover how those particular lines would relate to my life. But with lots of other writings that‘s not the case. I’m looking for something new.

A few years ago I came across the online collect of manuscripts of a writer / poet. What struck me the most was that for one published piece of work she had over twenty-five hand-written, legal-sized paper drafts. That is a serious commitment to getting it right. And when you realize that she was probably thinking about the text prior to putting in down on paper the number of rewrites climbs. Now when an author commits to the final product she / he is telling us that “This is all you get. This is my best effort in telling you what it is I mean to say.”

As the reader I get to choose how often I’m going to read a work. And each time I do I get to bring something new to the experience. I’m not quite the same person I was the last time I read the book. That is one of the reasons why I reread some books. Now, the book has to be something I’ve enjoyed in the past otherwise I won’t pick it up a second time. Now, if I can a book it usually stays canned. But as a younger reader I did reread works that I didn’t enjoy the first time. Or I’d give a book a second shot. Actually it might be more accurate to say I gave myself a second shot at the book.

So why reread something you know before going to bed? Or even read something you’re not familiar with before going to sleep? For ardent library users and most avid readers are library users the act of reading is at the same time both a stimulating and relaxing activity. As a rule you remain motionless while your mind is allowed to venture far beyond what would be your normal, everyday neighborhood. And you’re trying to get what the writer has delivered. The writer thinks they have provided it. So does the editor and the publisher. So it is finally up to us the readers. And I think, that is why I reread familiar lines before closing my eyes. I want to give myself one more shot at getting what a favorite writer has delivered in the past. One more shot at seeing those familiar lines in a new way given what has occurred in my life since I last read those words. Sometimes I remember where I was the last time I read the work. Sometimes it is just the familiar cadence of the text that I enjoyed the first time and still enjoy now. But I also think that if the work really resonates with me then that book will transcend the different times of my life. And just as in the past, I’ll not only get to enjoy those lines again right now but also for years to come. That is why those particular books are stacked right there. And opening one of them again, one more time may just be the very best way for any of us to close out a day.

See you at the Library,

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