“Oh! yes. Pray read on.”

Yesterday I wasn’t feeling too hot, so I went home at lunchtime. I read a magazine and ate lunch, and then Mike came home and he put in my Pride and Prejudice DVD so I could fall asleep while he read Naked. (The book. Get your mind out of the gutter.) And sleep I did – I missed pretty much the whole first disc, which means I slept for two-and-a-half hours. Mike actually woke me up so I could see the dance at Netherfield and the proposal scene, because he knew I’d want to see them. After that, we changed discs and he kept reading while I was watching. And when I finished disc 2, I went back and watched my favorite parts of disc 1 (that I had slept through). (And the proposal and the dance at Netherfield, because, really, who can see those too many times? Not I.)

The result of all of this is that I’m dying once again to re-read Pride and Prejudice. I have mentioned the first time I read it, and I have read it regularly since then. Alas, I have a few books in line that I need to get through before I can do my re-read. Friday Night Lights is next up, and Mike got me a couple of books that I need to be disciplined and read before I can snuggle down with Elizabeth Bennet again.

When we were hanging out with Scott and Kelly, she mentioned that she’d been reading Girl Meets God (one of my Top Ten Favorite Books) and she thought it was interesting that Lauren Winner gave up reading for Lent one year. She said, “I think you should do that.” I laughed it off, but she kept pushing me. “In the book, she talks about how reading is her life, and I think that’s the same for you. I think it would be good for you.” Scott tried to intervene here and said that Kelly should let me decide what I wanted to give up on my own, but I had to admit that she was right. He didn’t know that I read while drying my hair, while cooking, while eating, and while exercising (if at all possible), and he had to admit that Kelly had a point.

This morning, while I was drying my hair, I pulled out Girl Meets God and read the section Kelly mentioned.

“Lauren, he says, “I want you to give up something additional for Lent.” I raise an eyebrow. “I want you to give up reading . . . Reading, it seems to me, is something you really love. It may be the thing you love most. I would like you to give up reading for Lent . . . I think books would be a gift you could give Christ that would be really meaningful.” I butter my English muffin. “Let me ask you,” says Milind,” what do you do on say, a Thursday evening once you have eaten dinner, rinsed your dishes, and quit working for the night?”

“I read.”

“What about the occasional Thursday night on which you do not read?” says Milind.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Usually, I read.”

Then he says it again: “I’d like you to give up reading for Lent.”

“You know,” I say to Milind, “reading really is my fallback activity. If I have time on my hands, nothing to do, what I do is read.”

“No, no,” says Milind. “Reading is my fallback activity. Reading is your life.”

I haven’t decided whether or not I want to try it. Kelly says she’s giving up forks for Lent – anything you eat with a fork, she will eat with chopsticks so that she can learn to be more deliberate about her eating and her food. Last year I didn’t give up anything at all, but I have enjoyed the discipline in the past. I probably won’t post about whether or not I decide to do it. I tend to keep it as quiet as I can, because I don’t want to appear as a Pharisee, making my deeds known to men so they can glorify me. If I do decide to give it up, it will be because of this:

Giving up books for six weeks did not just leave me with more free time. It did not just save me some money. It also left me starkly alone with my life. I read, I think, for many reasons. I read for information, I read for pleasure, I read because I want to figure out the craft of putting a sentence together. But I also read to numb any feelings of despair or misery that might creep my way. Sven Birkerts once wrote, “To read, when one does so of one’s own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one’s life or of one’s orientation toward it.”

Even before Lent I had suspected that I used reading just this way, as a tonic or escape route. In late February, I wrote something in my journal about reading. “I feel myself entering a morose funk over this.” (“This” was, of course, a man.) I recognize this funk not because I want to sleep more or eat more, but by my desire to do what I always do when I get funked out: burrow into some feel-good small-town novel I’ve read a dozen times, usually Mitford, sometimes the Deborah Knott mysteries, now Overnight Float. It seems to be my always-cure.

During Lent, I don’t have that always-cure, and I find myself, not surprisingly, praying more. At first I pray more because I have time on my hands . . . But I also find myself praying more because I don’t have my usual distractions. When I am stuck in a puddle of sadness and mistakes, I cannot take them to Mitford. I have to take them to God.”

Comfort food, I told Scott. I use books like comfort food. Kelly chimed in and said, “Like some people use movies to escape, Kari does it with books.” And that’s why I might give up books for Lent – I have for too long carried the habit of drowning my sorrows in Circle of Friends or Pride and Prejudice or, as Lauren Winner says, the Mitford books. I am afraid of being left alone with my life, of having to think about things and having to find other ways to fill my time. I enjoy having that escape route. But I am thinking about it. It does seem to embody the spirit of Lent – giving up something truly important to you, truly of yourself, that will change your patterns and help you focus on Christ. But it also seems to be . . . overwhelming.

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