I have a co-worker who is an incredibly gentle, soft-spoken woman, but who says things that make you realize she has a powerhouse of wisdom behind her and that she could yell truth at you through a single whisper that would change your life forever.
I try to spend as much time around her as I can, just listening to her talk. She’s amazing.
At a meeting last year, she presented us with this TED talk on introversion. In it, Susan Cain talks about how she used to bring loads of books with her to camp, but felt afraid to open up her suit case and take them out to read because all of a sudden the world wasn’t about sitting quietly to read, it was about being outgoing and energetic.
The other day, this co-worker of mine walked in the door, said a quick hi, dumped two bags on the floor, then disappeared again after propping open the door. She came back with three more heavy bags, put them in the same spot, then picked one up. The entryways at my work all have stairs right after them. There is no way you can get anywhere without going up or down stairs. And she is an older woman. Though she is strong, I’m sure, I worry about her sometimes so I offered to carry her bags up for her.
She thanked me and proceeded to her office. I picked up two of the bags (if I wasn’t pregnant I would have tried to take them all), and they were heavier than I expected. I brought them up the two sets of stairs and put them next to her desk. Knowing her well-refined habit of reading, I asked her if they were full of books. She said they were, and went on to say that just having them with her motivates her to get work done. Because if she is able to get all the things done she came in to do, she might have some time leftover to read a book.
When I was just about to go off to college, I packed my backpack with a lot of books and journals and even some drawing pencils “just in case” I had some time to delve into them. They were company. They were friends. They always brought me joy. But my older brother looked at that and said “Oh, Reesha. You’ll learn pretty quickly that you only bring with you what you need in college.”
He was kind of right. I was carrying around way too much weight in my backpack for it to be healthy that first semester, and was saddened to realize that I had to stop carrying EVERY book I was currently reading for fun, on top of my course books and notebooks, and EVERY journal I was either writing or drawing in.
But after college, I always kind of felt like it was wrong to bring unnecessary books with me for some reason. The idea of practicality stopped me from overloading myself with the fun things just in case I might have time to get into them.
And I think my life was less rich for it.
When I got a smart phone, I felt I was in heaven for the first two months. I could read books anywhere and they didn’t cost me an ounce of lifting. I could even write, if I was determined enough. But I soon found myself abandoning those activities on my phone because they just weren’t as romantic as the real thing. Sure, I could capture a thought if I needed to. Or I could take in a paragraph here and there that I needed for information. But reading or writing for pleasure wasn’t really a part of it.
After carrying my co-worker’s books up those steps and realizing that even at her age, she insists on bringing books with “just in case”, it warmed something inside me that had long been ignored.
I felt like I had been given permission to bring things along that I don’t strictly need, no matter how much they weigh. Books are companions. And reading them on a phone is like trying to connect with a loved one through face-time: sure, you can hear and see them, but it just isn’t the same as having them over for a long weekend visit.
I’m very glad I have the ability to read books anywhere at anytime. The thought that I can carry over 3,000 books in my pocket makes me giddy sometimes. God bless technology.
But sometimes you just need the real thing.
So, first I felt like it was suddenly ok to bring books and journals with me again. Even to places where I wasn’t certain I would have time to get into them. But then, I decided to hold onto that forbidden feeling.
The books I read with a flashlight under the covers were always so much more fun than the ones I read during the day on the weekend sitting on the couch. (Actually I rarely read with a flashlight because there was a very powerful street light right outside my window that never turned off. How was I supposed to resist night reading when there was such a perfect set-up? But you get the idea.)
My point is, don’t be afraid to bring your books with you. Even if you don’t get the chance to read them. Susan encouraged her viewers to open up your suitcases and bring out the books you brought. I would encourage you to fill your suitcases with books in the first place.
My husband has been after me about making my bag lighter as it is. He’s started to brainstorm ways I can whittle down the amount of stuff I bring to take care of my toddler. Which is great to have him help innovate my carrying techniques. But I think I’m going to insist on at least one book, and one journal. At least until after I’m done being pregnant. Then I can bring more.
Books are worth it. More importantly, our brains are worth it. Do you even know all the things reading does to our brains? I think that’s another post for a later time.