~Cheryl Strayed, Wild
I grew up as a voracious reader — learned at three years old through my mom who read books aloud and taught me how to read them for myself while cooking dinner, via magnetic letters on the refrigerator.
Then came every book written by my beloved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, followed by The Baby-Sitters Club. Countless worlds and characters, not to mention all the other books in between.
As I got older and outgrew my childhood series at least chronologically, there weren’t any series that grabbed me anymore, or authors who seemed to see inside my soul on a regular basis. But I kept reading books, especially when I commuted to and from the city on the Long Island Railroad for several years. There’s nothing better than being in the middle of a book, but standing in the tiny, crowded bookstore at Penn Station in front of the New Release section, picking out a brand-new adventure based on nothing but a title and my gut was a close second.
I don’t remember when exactly I stopped reading books on a regular basis, how soon it was after that. I never stopped reading. The Internet is surely to blame for a lot of my lack of book reading, but it’s also kept me reading. As much as I love movies and television even more so, my days are spent reading pretty much non-stop. Maybe it’s something as small as a Tweet or as big as a lengthy article on psychology or history; sometimes it’s excellent writing about a ridiculous subject like “Vanderpump Rules.” But my brain still loves to read.
So many times I’ve acquired books — paid for them myself, received them as gifts, taken them out of the library. “This will be what switches me back to my old self,” I always think as I hunker down, ready to once again pick up a book and become transported for an entire afternoon, especially if it’s raining. Those were some of the best days of my childhood.
Instead, I’d fall asleep within five minutes, or start the book but abandon it for no discernible reason. I’ve started many books in these past years, but finished very, VERY few. I think I finished one altogether last year: Guts by Kristen Johnston. It was excellent, and I highly recommend it! But for someone who used to run out of my HUGE pile of library books on family vacations and need to go to the bookstore to find more, one book in one year is a travesty.
One of the books that I began but stopped reading was Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I saw the movie in 2015 and fell in love with all of it — the film, its story, and especially Strayed’s writing, which was featured in the movie. I read her book of quotes and started reading Wild. Why I stopped, I have no idea.
A few days ago, I ended up getting lost and walking an extra couple of miles in the hot sun, much of it uphill. At first I was frustrated, but then my memory was triggered of how when I first saw the movie and started reading Wild, I’d think of it every time I wanted to quit something. I’d think of putting one foot in front of the other, and so on and so forth. No race, no deadline, no competition with anyone but myself and the temptation to give up. When Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, she had an end goal, a final destination. But what mattered even more was everything that happened between the beginning and that end, her mental journey even more than the physical one.
As I walked, I realized how much I wanted to read all the details of her punishing experience, all her beautiful words that were on the pages between the front and back covers. How much I needed them. I wanted to experience every moment of Strayed’s life-changing journey. I wanted my brain and soul and even body to absorb every word on those pages like when Dark Willow scans that book at the end of “Buffy,” Season 6.
(I had to throw in at least one TV reference.)
Basically, I didn’t want to revisit Wild because I felt I *should* read a book. I felt a powerful urge combined with a calm knowledge that if I simply began the journey, every moment of it would bring riches and a greater understanding of life and the world at a time when I am absolutely craving that with every fiber of my being. I feel raw and ready for something life changing and want to experience that vicariously through someone whose writing makes me want to highlight every other sentence; it’s so poetic and insightful.
So the desire was there, but what of all the bad habit responses I’ve developed over the years when it came to books?
Well, Wild is a different kind of story, so maybe I could take a different kind of approach. I told myself: two pages a night. That’s it. There is no reason to overthink two pages, to make excuses as to why there’s no time, or more important things to do. There is no need to set aside three hours to create A Perfect Day Of Reading like I used to enjoy.
There is only the need to begin.
Last night, I did the same. I’m into what I’m reading; I’m just in terrible shape and need to build up those muscles again. I know that soon enough, those two pages will turn into more. Simply from the five I’ve read so far, I feel richer from Strayed’s words and stronger from my choice to sit down in bed and add this to my nightly ritual. I feel like I’ve turned a key in a lock and am so excited to see what discoveries await.