Tuesday, December 20, 2005


It's that very bottom of the year where I always feel like crawling into bed and reading and sleeping for a week with a coffee machine a few steps away. I spent one winter break home from college doing just that. It was one of the happiest times of my life. In that week I sat in bed and read Alice in Wonderland, The Fermata, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, Franny and Zooey, and Neuromancer, I think.

Every winter, around this time, when people start sneaking out of the office early to do last minute shopping, when people take long flights home, I look for a place to hole up, hide, and read. Almost every year for the past decade or so, I find myself reading Franny and Zooey once again on the day before Christmas.

Reading has always seemed to me like a very self-indulgent and self-absorbed activity. It feels so passive, so inert. But I'm a glutton for it. Partially it's because I'm curious to read certain things, want to finish certain stories, learn particular histories, ec. But often, I think it's more about the weird, detached, not-there mindstate I get put into when I'm safely and securely reading.

When I was about eight or nine, I used to read in a washer-dryer closet we had on the second floor. There was a light in there. I would wait until my mom was drying a load of laundry, and then I'd take a blanket and a pillow, lay it out on the dryer, shut the closet doors, and read for the sixty minutes of the dryer cycle. It was always a little sad when the warmth and hum of the dryer shut down and the cold and silence started creeping back in. My mother never approved of this habit of mine. She was convinced I was breathing in dust and lint from the dryer exhaust. And that the dryer was probably not designed to be used as a lounge chair.

For some reason, I used to like to read science fiction (generally post-nuclear apocalypse type stuff) or WWII histories in that closet. Around that same time, I also used to like reading Peanuts comic books for hours in the bathtub.

It looked almost exactly like this, except that the washer and dryer were flush up against each other.

Combined with my long-standing habit of reading excessively in the bathroom, I think my old dryer-womb practice pretty much establishes that reading is a regressive activity for me. It often does feel like an attempt to retract from the world of responsibility, blame, duty, fear, and anxiety, into a warm, humming neverland blankness. It's no wonder that one of my favorite places to be is on a long plane flight, reading a pulpy-smelling paperback. You know, the kind that has that Hugo Award science fiction section new pocket paperback smell? At first, that smell is very rich, saturated, almost suggestive of some kind of exotic oil. It's a smell full of promise, like the interior of a new car in the dealer's lot. Over time, as the pages become thin and brittle, that smell fades, and the paper smells cooler, drier, more like winter, and the past. This is a different smell than that gluey, plasticky and cardboardy smell--which I also loved--of the books I borrowed as a kid from my local public library back in Connecticut.

Anyway, I'll be on a long flight--back to Hartford--next week. I can't wait for that moment when we are somewhere above Colorado at eleven at night and I crack open a paperback and let that wonderful new paperback smell wash over me as I revel in a few hours of reprieve. I have a number of books on my list, but, as always, I am open to any and all recommendations.


Anonymous said...

that's a lovely story .... but I believe it was Ziggy you were reading in the bathtub (in addition to Peanuts).

Octopus Grigori said...

It's true: sometimes, naked and warm, I did read Ziggy. I still have--I need to get it framed--the fantastic sketch you did of me reading Ziggy in the bathtub.

It is true, though, that mostly I read Peanuts. I also plowed through Garfield, Blondie, Bloom County, Heathcliff, and almost the entire "Choose Your Own Adventure" series in the tub. I think I might have had one Shoe collection. I am proud to say I never read any Family Circus.