Tag Archives: bedtime reading

Why Summer Reading Lists Bum Me Out

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately.

I suppose it’s because it’s that time of the year again. You know, when everyone starts posting their “Summer Reading Lists” – a selection of books that you can and should devour when you have those mythical four weeks of lolly-gagging around the pool/beach/barbecue…you name it.

(Me? I tend to spend my summers lolly-gagging around the Talacre Sports Centre about a half-mile from my home, desperately trying to squeeze in some work in between lugging my kids to their various camps. But I suppose “there’s always tomorrow,” as Annie once said….)

If you’re like me, summer reading lists don’t inspire excitement or inspiration. They merely inspire dread and a looming sense of failure. And that’s because they remind me how very many books I wish to read and how very few of those I’ll ever manage to actually get through.

On my bedside table right now I’ve got two books open which I’m mid-way through – Tea Obreht’s award-winning The Tiger’s Wife and Hans Fallada’s haunting holocaust-era thriller, Alone In Berlin.

Buried underneath them are, in no particular order: Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side (which is relevant to my own-novel-in-progress), Lorrie Moore’s A Gate At The Stairs (because Book Snob Katy Keim recommended it) and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Yup, it’s true.)

(I do give myself credit for finally donating Eternal Message of Muhammed to the library. What can I say? Old habits die hard.)

If you glance at this list, you may be wondering: Does she really plan to get through all of these books this summer – let alone in her lifetime?

And therein lies the dilemma of reading. I love to do it and try, most nights, to read before going to bed. (Unless, of course, I’m watching our box set of The Wire.) But it’s a sisyphean task because no sooner do I knock one book off of my night table, another slides in to take its place. And I’m left feeling…behind.

Which is why I was so delighted to happen upon an article on the NPR website by Linda Holmes entitled “The Sad Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything.” Holmes’ basic point is that in today’s world, there are an infinite amount of good books/movies/artistic treasures to consume. ( I would add that in light of technology, there are also a never-ending barrage of reminders about their existence, as well as how easy it is to access them. (Click here!))

And yet, we can’t possibly consume everything out there that we’re told is worthwhile. Which leaves us, according to Holmes – with two options: to “cull”  – i.e. to self-consciously decide what’s worth our time and what we should ignore – or to “surrender” – i.e., to accept that we can’t possibly make it through all of these great works, but that failing to do so should not threaten our sense that we are ‘well read.'”

The second option is painful, but oddly liberating. As she writes: “It is the recognition that well-read is not a destination; there is nowhere to get to, and if you assume there is somewhere to get to, you’d have to live a thousand years to even think about getting there, and by the time you got there, there would be a thousand years to catch up on.”

Such sage wisdom. Not only for reading, but for life

I love this idea. To view reading not as the summit, but as the mountain-climbing itself. And to recognize the sadness – and also the relief – embedded in that journey.

Whew! I feel better already.

Which reminds me – I really need to get my summer reading list out…

 

Image: get my hands on by mrsexsmith via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Dressing For The School Run: Are Pajamas OK?

Thursday is World Book Day. In honor of this event, the head teacher at my daughter’s school has invited all of the children to come to school with their favorite bedtime reading, dressed in their favorite pajamas.

She’s also invited all of the staff – and even the parents – to do the same. That’s right. The parents can come to drop off in their pajamas.

My first thought upon learning this was:  And this is different…how?

As a freelance writer working from home, I often show up to school in some version of my PJ’s. And happily so. Wearing whatever you please is one of the many perks of the freelance life.

But apparently, it’s not for everyone. A head teacher in Belfast recently imposed a ban on parents showing up to school in their pajamas, which he described as “rude and slovenly.” As he pointed out, ‘People don’t go to see a solicitor, bank manager or doctor dressed in pyjamas, so why do they think it’s okay to drop their children off at school dressed like that?’ This was shortly after a supermarket in Wales imposed a similar ban in its store after too many women (it’s always women, isn’t it?) showed up to shop for food in their PJ’s. (Yikes! I just did that this morning!)

While my initial reaction was to get the government out of my closet, I did end up giving this matter a bit of thought. Clearly, the head teacher in question  thinks that those of us who come to school half asleep are evincing some sort of disrespect towards the school, its teachers and the rest. But I’m not sure it’s quite that simple.

A lot of it is just laziness, convenience and the fact that – for many of us – just getting out the door most mornings in a semi-timely fashion is a major triumph, let alone properly dressed.

But there are other things going on as well.

One reason one doesn’t “overdress” for the school run – OK, one reason *I* don’t do it, except when it’s a new school – is that in not dressing up, I’m also trying to signal to other parents that, some days, I’m really not ready for prime time. Translated: “No, I don’t want a coffee. I don’t want to chat. I just want to go home.” (I’m reminded of a friend who once confessed that there were some mornings when she’d just like to show up at school in a Burqa. Amen, sister. I mean, praise Allah.)

But, of course, there are lots of mums who show up for the school run in their perfectly orchestrated sweater sets ready to take on the world. And their put-togetherness is also often a social cue designed to convey something to their peers.

I’m also aware that by not dressing up for the school run, I’m sending precisely the wrong message to my six-year-old tomboy daughter. She insists on wearing sweat pants, a hoodie (with zip!) and some sort of clashing, striped non-turtlenecked shirt Every. Single. Day. But how can I possibly harangue her for looking like a slob when I look like something that the cat dragged in? (“But Mommy, you haven’t combed your hair yet either…“)

All of which is to say is that even the seemingly trivial choices we make every single day are loaded.

And so I think it is an interesting question to ask:  When we dress to take our children to school, whom are we dressing for (assuming we aren’t on our way to a proper job): Ourselves? Our peers? The kids? The teachers?

And should there be a minimum dress standard in place?

What do you think?

Image: Pink Pajamas by DCVision 2006 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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