When I was a child I read ravenously, in any spare minute that I could shrug off my duties and slip away from my father's watch. If I wasn't working, I was reading. As the years passed and I had to support a family and run a home and manage a career, I could find less and less time for it. Reading had become a luxury I couldn't afford.
My reading time has been those precious minutes between bedtime and sleep. On most days I was only able to read a page or two before I couldn't keep my eyes open. That is one reason I took three years to read Mary Chestnut's Civil War diary.
In January 2020 I took the Goodreads' challenge and set myself a goal of reading 12 books during the year. That seemed a low figure, but I wanted to make sure I met the goal, with home-schooling & farm-work & everything else there is to do.
I have surprised myself.
The more I read this spring and summer, the more I could read. That's because I the more I read, the faster I was reading. I was getting faster and faster. I was shocked to see myself speeding through books. That had not seemed possible to me in years.
I have been able to move through a lot of books that I've wanted to read for a long time. Some of them I've purchased from ABE Books or independent bookstores, and now that the libraries have reopened, some I've obtained there. (My small provincial library owns very few books that interest me, so interlibrary loan has been incredibly beneficial.)
This morning I finished A COUNTRY DOCTOR by Sarah Orne Jewett. First published in 1884, it tells the story of a young New England woman, Nan Prince, who wanted to be a doctor and who made the decision not to marry in order to devote herself to her calling. In the book, her mentor Dr. Leslie sits thinking about Nan. "He tried to assure himself that while a man's life is strengthened by his domestic happiness, a woman's must either surrender itself wholly, or relinquish entirely the claims of such duties, if she would achieve distinction or satisfaction elsewhere. The two cannot be taken together in a woman's life as in a man's."
Think how much things have changed, that I have been able to marry and have children, yet still follow my calling and enjoy a career. My husband is as much in charge of our "domestic happiness" as I am our economics.
Jewett herself was the daughter of a country doctor; she never married; and she made the decision to become a writer when this was a profession (or service) mostly closed to women. In fact, the novel is a feminist treatise on the need for women to express their God-given talents. "The simple fact that there is a majority of women in any centre of civilization means that some are set apart by nature for other uses and conditions than marriage," Jewett writes on p. 250 of the edition of the book I read.
I read the book because it was highly recommended by Willa Cather, whose work I have been intensely studying. Cather, if you don't remember, wrote MY ANTONIA, which is a glorious work of American literature, and although it will always be classified as a novel, is really a work of nature-writing. It was pivotal in my decision to become a person who writes about nature. Cather's life itself fascinates me to no end because early on she sometimes dressed as a man, took a man's name (Willem, I believe it was), and chose a man's career. She also never married. She went into remote parts of the country, such as the Desert Southwest, where she camped and explored. She was an inspiration.
I am appalled when I think of the cultural discrepancies between men and women, when so many things have been closed to or made difficult for women.
All of this is to say that I feel young again in my reading. I am finding time to lose myself in books. I am studying the words and images other writers have set on paper, and I am being transformed by their ideas. In that regard, this has been a potent and fiery time.
The epiphany here is that I have learned that, like most activities, the more one reads, the better one gets at it. And because I'm getting better at it, I'm able to do more and more. So I report to you a happy cycle: reading books leads to more reading of books.