Santa brought books to my house yesterday. It was the gift consistent across the board of giving, with books handed out to and from the eleven of us, from age eight to eighty-four. Recent releases, like Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness and Stephen King's Under the Dome, mixed it up with older favorites like Men Without Women by Hemingway, Rabbit Redux by Updike, and Letting Go by Philip Roth. There was a broad swath of genres, fantasy like Dragon Winter by Niel Hancock; science fiction in Little Brother by Cory Doctorow; animal tales in The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo; kid stuff like Kate DiCamilo's The Magician's Elephant and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Shift; old classics like One-of-a-Kind Family by Sidney Taylor and Up & Down New York by Tony Sarg; cult classics like Lore Segal's Lucinella; new classics like Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann; and mysteries by Beverle Graves, Jonathan Gash, April Smith, and Cassandra Clark. I even got a book of book jokes: The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes. It is hilarious.
Between all of us, over thirty books were exchanged. How will we have time to read them all? The number one rule to follow if you want to read more is to SIT down and do it. From October 2008 through October 2009 I read one book a day and along with all the pleasure and wisdom, laughs and tears, I became an expert on how to find time to read. Some tricks to reading more are obvious: ignore the dishes and the laundry and the Internet. Some tricks are surprisingly effective: don't ignore friends and family, but instead invite them to sit down and read, too. It's very peaceful to read alongside another person. Allow reading at the table for one dinner a week. Read while eating lunch (see above). Substitute two chapters of a book for one Facebook visit and instead of tweeting or twooting (rooting through others' tweets) read a book. After dinner, before hitting TIVO, read a book. On the subway/train/toilet, read a book. Waiting in the car to pick up kids/husband/wife/friend, read a book.
Looking for a New Year's Resolution? Reading more is a great resolution. Making time for reading is a much more pleasant promise to keep than giving up eating or drinking, and can in fact make those lunches of grilled chicken and carrot sticks more palatable. Accompany lunch with a gripping mystery and you might not even notice the caloric deprivation. Plunge into The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk and you won't be reaching for the third glass of wine (although you might entertain untoward ideas about your cousin). Giving up cigarettes? Stay away from pulp and noir fiction (too much smoking) and try short stories or essay collections for quick fixes of pleasure (Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro, Rancho Weirdo by Laura Chester, Infidelities by Josip Novakovich, Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs).
Reading is a vacation and an education. It is titillating and exhilarating; it is comforting. Reading connects us to places and people across continents and ages, cultures and inclinations. Reading can be done in public as well as in private, alone and with others. Reading can be consumed gloriously and gluttonously; it is calorie-free (and if done while on an exercise bike, can actually burn calories) and it is cheap (or even free, from the library). As far as New Year's Resolutions go, reading more is the one resolution I can stick to without pain and with little chance of total failure. I may still tremble before getting on the scales and redden with humility while opening up that bottle of red, but with great books by my side (and in my purse,) I can live with the padded hips and the muffin-top. I counter the old adage "You can never be too rich or too thin" with "You can never read too much or too often."