Signal This: A Journal Completely Unrelated to Law Review, but Completely Necessary
I put a status up on Facebook yesterday that bespoke of one of these revelations (the Facebook status is really a versatile doppleganger).
It occurred to me as I walked into the library the morning of the second day that something was wrong. Breakfast was sitting fine so it wasn't that, although the eggs on a roll would have been more palatable with some cheese, which is true about most food. I went upstairs, let myself into the personal study room, and turned my computer on. Then it hit me. I was in the library. One of the best public libraries in the country, of which I had vowed once to read the entirety (it was fourth grade. And I was used to a public library in Queens, NY which only let you borrow a certain number of books at a time. The first time I asked someone here what the limit was, they responded with a look and said . . . well, in theory, as much as you can carry, or something to that effect.) And here I was, fourteen years later, not walking around with a stack of books that I needed to peer around so as not to take out librarians and little old ladies (sometimes one and the same).
So I fixed that. I locked up my study room, went downstairs to the new fiction and new non-fiction sections, and went to town. I had to renew my library card, since I hadn’t used it in more than three years, having not really lived in this town for longer than that, but I did. And that in and of itself was renewing. For me, as well as for my library card.
I brought 7 books back up to the study room with me, where they sat and tempted me as I worked on trying to make a coherent note out of the law review cases. At lunch, I took one of the books, a free verse novel about werewolves in Los Angeles called "Sharp Teeth," down to the café with me, where I consumed a healthy chunk of it along with a bagel with lox and cream cheese, tomatoes, onions and capers, and washed it all down with a Diet Coke.
When I look around at my neighbors in the study rooms, I wonder if they have similar thoughts. I suspect not, from the lack of any reading that looks remotely pleasurable that they’ve brought with them. Some of them look downright pained as they work through whatever it is they’re slogging through. One person has been here every day that I have, and is evidently very restless. The first day, he was in the room across from me (all the rooms are glass-paned). The next, he was a room down when I got to the library. Today, he’s around the corner in the very back. It feels like he’s the king in a chess game slowly moving around the board trying to avoid checkmate. But he’s cornered himself now; I could probably check him pretty quickly, with a pawn and possibly anything else but anther pawn.
But when I go downstairs for lunch, some of the people reading down there look pained too. Brighten up people. You’re reading for pleasure. You should look like it. There’s no way you can enjoy what you read when you’re grimacing like that. There’s obviously something else on your mind. The first obstacle to reading comprehension and reading with any depth isn’t vocabulary; it’s concentration, and when you look like you’re being tortured, you’re probably not concentrating on the pages. I could have reminded myself of that more than a few times, probably, during the school year. I bet if I were being filmed or if people saw me in the library, I likely didn’t always have a placid look on my face.
I went home last night and read another book before going to bed (a new Weis and Hickman book; I keep reading their books in the hope that they write something good again - no luck so far), and also read the first chapter of a sci-fi book I picked up for its cover (it wasn’t worth it, and that says a lot because most books are worth reading in some way or another, even if it’s dreck so that one can appreciate a good book all the more, so I returned both of those books today). To compensate, I picked another one up this morning, a historical fiction on the Fourth Crusade written by some gypsy (no, really, that’s what the author note says; she was a former gypsy) and 125 pages into it, it’s proving a worthier choice.
Update: it's 10:00 PM and I have to say, it was a pretty good book. Kind of reminiscient of a first-person Edgar Rice Burroughs book I read once, crossed with most contemporary fiction that can't seem to exist without a partially-omnicient narrator.
It’s nice reading again. And I realize that I can do it while still working. I kind of knew this during the school year too, as evidenced when I got my book on cosmology and C.S. Lewis, but I didn’t really understand it.
I haven’t been myself for a while. I haven’t been devouring books at the pace I used to, and as such, I was starving. Law and the occasional pleasure read were somewhat satiating due to the mental stimulus necessary to engage with the material, but it didn’t make me feel quite as alive as I do when I’m reading at my normal pace. And I actually think my interactions with other people suffer for it; I feel like I had become a bit bland and colorless for that lack of stimulation in my life. I honestly believe that if one can’t enjoy some form of art passionately, whether it be literature, film, music, even cooking, one can’t live passionately. Maybe that's the problem in the profession I've chosen, and really, any profession that requires that much investment of one's time. I can imagine being passionate about the law (really, I can), but I think I'll need other habits too. I told someone cynically once that I thought law may be one of those professions where all your habits exist in theory. I was wrong. It doesn't have to be that way.
I've been collecting books the past couple years, as evidenced by my time in DC and my trip to Cape Cod, as I went with a large cooler of groceries and returned with a large cooler of . . . books. I got out to see the rest of the Cape, baseball games and beaches and all that, but I also went book hunting. But that’s not the same when some of those are books I had already read, or books that I bought because they were collectible.
The upshot of it is that I’m reading again. And law review doesn’t seem so bad for it.