“Magazines all too frequently lead to books, and should be regarded by the prudent as the heavy petting of literature.”~Fran Lebowitz
I often think of this quotation from Fran Lebowitz after I’ve started reading something when I should be doing something else. “Just a little,” I tell myself. I’ve glanced at the clock. Then, I swear, it only felt like a moment. I’ve only just gotten up a good head of steam on the story. The clock must be lying! But there they are again, the rest of my life’s obligations rudely insisting on interrupting a really good read. For us tough cases, of course it’s not just magazines that lead to books. Books lead to books. All the time.
Just the other day, I picked up my first Christmas present to arrive in the mail. A dear friend sent me Betsy Warland’s Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing. I opened it just about the time a responsible adult, a prudent person, would probably start thinking about making dinner. “The act of reading is the act of belief,” says Warland. And she had me. Within the next few pages, she prompts: “As an exercise, you may find it useful to pull a number of books off the shelf and read only the first page of each.” What a good idea. Lots of writing teachers suggest exactly this. What harm could a first page or two do, just before opening the frozen broccoli?
But because for me reading is like candy—who can stop at just one page?— before long I’ve read the first 50 pages of The Picture of Dorian Gray. My children come into the kitchen. The stove is cold. All they can smell is my afternoon coffee. “Isn’t it time for dinner?” they ask.
It’s Oscar Wilde’s fault. Not mine. I hang the blame on the characters Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian himself, and more than that, on (page 36), “Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed … to have music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of a lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words!”
But because kids can’t eat words, they finally convinced me to put the book down. Dinner got made and eaten.
And today. Well, today is a new day. I can try reading the “only the first page” of a couple of books again today. Before breakfast.