For this post, I've wrestled with the role of reading: Why do I do it? What do I gain from it? What is the process? Every book places me in a different world, a different experience. But somehow it grounds me more firmly in this world and this experience of being human. Gift.
The room was filled with joyous, laughing people. They were celebrating: sharing a meal, reminiscing about the past two or three years, talking about what was next. Students were dressed to the nines—dresses and heels, ties and dress pants. Faculty and board members were not quite so formal; they were swept into the tide of excitement coming from the chattering students. Forks and knives clattered against plates, and wine glasses were filled and emptied.
And there I sat, my nose in a book. I didn’t mean for it to happen. The book—a monograph on music and Karl Barth—was just there: a friend was borrowing it from another friend and it was on our table. I absently picked it up, glanced through the opening pages and just started reading. No thought to the activity around me, the rudeness of this gesture. It was a book and therefore it needed to be perused.
“Lauren!” Betsy nearly shouted it. Her eyes were wide and she snatched the book from me. “What are you doing!?! We’re at dinner.”
As I said, it had not been intentional, but I had fallen into the text. That’s how it always happens. My life is pieced together with journeys into books. I slip into them and then emerge, somewhat surprised to find the world around me again, a world of plants and animals, of color, of people, of food and drink. A world that has dimension.
Reading provides me with an escape, a chance to get away and be elsewhere, a journey into someone else’s life. I have danced with Max and the Wild Things, flown with Milkman, observed grasshoppers with Mary Oliver, prayed with any number of theologians, and died with Madame Bovary. I’ve contemplated love with Mary Russell, been an old man with Eliot, and sobered up with Augusten Burroughs.
But the escape only works if I come back to my own life. These stories are folded into my own; they are not all I am, but they are parts of me. They have helped me be a child, a daughter, a woman, a friend, a theologian, a writer, an editor, and a person. Every book takes me beyond myself and, paradoxically, leads me deeper into myself. I do not read to run away; rather, in the departure from this world—of family members and friends, of grief and loneliness, of joy and hope—I enter more fully into it.