Wednesday, January 18, 2006

BOOKS: How I Read

Lying in bed between your sleeping husband and baby, all of you snuggled beneath the duvet, with the nightlight casting a glow over the pages of your book: this is the sweetest way to read.

Lying in bed between your sleeping husband and baby, all of you snuggled beneath the duvet, with the nightlight casting a glow over the pages of your book: this is the most maddening, annoying, and hellishly uncomfortable way imaginable to read.

First off, it's hot. Not just regular hot. Boiling hot. All three of us are conduits for some kind of elemental force that emanates heat in ripply waves like those you see on desert horizons. Separately, we don't notice it. Together, we could pop the top off a thermometer and make mercury rain down on the room. If mercury rain will cool me down, I'll take it.

And why am I the one who has to lie in the middle? Why? Because
Rusty likes to pull the covers up over his ears. Young Master Sam likes them only on his legs. I am the unofficial nocturnal blanket wrangler whose job is to keep everyone covered according to their proclivities. As a result, in true Mama Bear fashion, the covers on me are neither too low nor too high, but instead rest just over my sternum. The thing is this, though: I hate blankets and would prefer none at all.

Which brings me back to point A: I'm HOT.

Also, our nightlight sucks. I'm going to go blind like
John Milton, without the benefit of loyal daughters who will type my blog entries for me when I'm old, and I'm going to have no problem pinpointing what caused it. But if I increase the brightness by even five watts, Sam's eyes pop open like little blue jack-in-the-boxes and dear god in heaven, we don't want that. So 15 watts it is. And I'm putting aside a dollar a week to save up for for my seeing eye dog, because it's pretty obvious to anyone who's met him that my dog, Dobbs, is not a creature you want leading you across six-lane intersections.

So picture me, if you will -- cramped, sweating, squinting, horribly contorted so as to position my book to get maximum light exposure -- and add the fact that I'm turning each page incredibly s-l-o-o-o-o-o-w-l-y so as not to disturb either Rusty or Sam. They can be twitchy when disturbed.

I've read literally thousands of pages in this manner.
I must love reading, huh?

The thing is, I don't just love to read: I
have to read. Bedtime reading is such an engrained habit -- a habit 30-plus years in the making -- that no matter how tired I am, I can't fall asleep without reading a few pages, or sometimes even a few sentences. Without a book, I'll just lie there in the dark, my dry, exhausted eyes twitching in their sockets for hours, waiting to succumb to forces that apparently take almost everyone but me to sleepyland on a nightly basis.

Many years back, I hopped aboard a Green Tortoise tour of Baja. If you're not familiar with the Green Tortoise approach to travel, here it is: a bunch of young-ish people hop on a custom-renovated hippie bus that serves as a tour bus by day and a hostel on wheels at night. At dusk, all the travellers pull out from their luggage only the necessities they'll need for the night. Everything else gets packed -- irrevocably -- under the converted sleeping platforms until the next morning.

You see where I'm going? Yes. I accidentally stowed my books overnight. All my books. The thudding horror I felt when I realized this was close kin to the sick feeling you get in that dream where you arrive at the airport only to realize you've forgotten your ticket and passport.

I had a similar experience a few years back, when Rusty, our friend
Ali, and I went on an overnight hiking trip. Our plan was to do an approximately four-hour hike up to a lake in a glorious alpine meadow, where we'd pitch camp, cook dinner, ingest some fungi that may or may not have possessed magical properties, and in general lark about, get a good night's sleep as only comes after a day of vigorous activity in the mountain air, then break camp and hike back down the next day.

Here's a chronological list of everything that went wrong:
  • We arrived at the trailhead late. I don't like to point the finger of blame, but Rusty and Ali do, and they pointed it at me. I'm sure I must have had my reasons.
  • It being a hot day, Rusty applied himself rigorously to lightening our packs so that we could get to our campsite more quickly. Said load-lightening included abandoning my book, after much protest. ("Why do you need a book? You'll be hanging out with us!")
  • Rusty accidentally (he claims) lightened our load to such an extent that he left behind our spare water, our Kool-Aid powder (for flavouring the creek water we also expected to avail ourselves of), and the bug repellent.
  • We realized, after three hours of gruelling, spectacularly unpicturesque switchbacks, that we'd misread the trail map (and by "we" I mean Rusty). Our expected 1500-foot elevation gain suddenly morphed into a 1500-meter elevation gain. You don't have to be European toknow that a meter is much longer than a foot.
  • The day got hotter.
  • The switchbacks continued mercilessly.
  • The creek was dry. As a result, water was rationed.
After eight hours of almost ceaseless uphill hiking, we were on the verge of heatstroke. (Did I mention that we'd all been up almost all night the night before, doing what is referred to in the parlance of our times as "partying," and as a result were rather fatigued and dehydrated at the start of the hike? How did I manage to forget that?) So we decided to bail on the alpine lake and just park our tent on the closest thing approximating level ground we could find.

Being young, optimistic and, most fundamental to this story, stupid, we didn't just call it a day, pitch our tent on its 75-degree incline, sleep, go home, and pretend the whole thing hadn't happened.

Instead, we established our camp and then nonchalantly imbibed the aforementioned fungi with the alleged magical properties. And a good time was had by all!

No, that's not true. What actually happened was that within ten minutes of choking down our evil, dusty, dirt-flavoured handfuls of spores, Rusty and Ali fell deeply and immovably asleep. I say "immovably" because I pinched them -- hard -- and they did not move.

So where did that leave me? I'm glad you asked. Here's a recap of things I did not have:
  • water with which to slake my exponentially growing thirst
  • a book with which to amuse myself
  • bug repellent, which would have protected me from the angry mobs of mosquitoes I could hear congregating outside our tent
  • loyal friends
  • a club with which to bash myself on the skull repeatedly in the hope that it would render me blissfully senseless
Here's what I did have:
  • a creeping restlessness and sense of dread facilitated by the foul plant toxins now circulating recklessly throughout my body
  • our hiking guidebook
So I did what anyone in my situation would do: I lay on my sleeping bag and read that entire hiking book from cover to cover. I took special delight in bookmarking specific hikes to show Rusty later... hikes with minute elevation gains that rolled lazily through mountain vista after mountain vista, with sparkling water sources aplenty.

And that is the worst camping trip I've ever been on. And I've been on some doozies. Like the time years and years ago when Rusty and I got into a stupid argument and a horsefly wouldn't stop dive-bombing me in our canoe, so I burst into tears, which won Rusty's sympathy if not the horsefly's. (Horsefly schmorsefly. Someone should rename those things jackassflies. Ha. Geddit?)

Or there was another camping trip where Rusty, Glark and I realized that our tent was missing its fly... after we'd already canoed five hours to get to our campsite. It's very dumb not to check your gear before you go camping, a message that God (or whatever vengeful entity you choose to believe in) reinforced by sending a full night of thunder and torrential rain our way.

But that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was that Rusty made chili for dinner, a meal that served to make Glark's bowels explode all night long like some kind of
Wile E. Coyote Acme fart generator, a smell rivalled only by Rusty's noxious pre-wisdom-teeth-extraction breath, which under normal circumstances I would have said smelled like ass, except that Glark was there to remind me what ass actually smells like, and the two bore no relation to each other except for their equal roles in causing me to try to drown myself in the three inches of standing water in our tent.

Jesus Christ, how did I get here in this entry? You people have to STOP ME when I get like this. I have a BABY to take care of.

What the hell was my point? I guess all this is by way of saying that my current reading environment may not be the most comfortable, but I've endured worse. Yup.


Anonymous said...

Ah yes, I've been there! In my case it was hanging out in my sleeping bag between husband and child. My daughter decided her appropriate place to live was at the bottom of my sleeping bag, sigh... Good luck with your reading :).

Anonymous said...

Awesome post!
I too have to read before I go to bed. I recently moved across the continent with two suitcases, and most of one of them was my books...which only had to last long enough for me to get a library card.

--Deb said...

Well, that post certainly took a round-about route! (grin--I, of course, have never digressed in my life.) I absolutely hear you about reading in bed. I've been doing it for almost 40 years now and it is an absolute necessity. I keep saying that reading books (as opposed to reading magazines) is my one, real, never-going-to-shake-it addiction. It's as necessary as breathing or sleeping--which is well-nigh impossible without first reading, as you well know. I sympathize about the light though--15 watts?? Maybe you should put aside two dollars a day? One advantage to being the only person in my bed is I control the light--100 watts, right by the head of the bed (though, oddly, I read in bed with my back to the light. Really, don't ask me why).

Incidentally, I've only just discovered your blog in the last week or so, but am enjoying it immensely. We don't seem to completely agree on books, but we have a nice overlap, which is always good, and I enjoy your breezy style of writing.

BabelBabe said...

You make me laugh out loud.

And I always say, "I breathe, I read, I sleep. The three necessities of life." Well, now that I have three kids under age 5, there's only two and let me tell you, it is not reading that went by the wayside : )

I'm going to vote now.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm also one that has to read before sleeping. As you say, sometimes it just needs to be a couple of lines.

But as for the camping, I tried it and hated it, then I tried it again just get everyone off my back and I hated it even more. I will never do it again. So thanks for your amusing entry, which just served to reinforce why, again. Just in case I was going to waver.

Anonymous said...

The camping! That made me giggle quite a bit.

I've been flooded out many a time, and generally end up squished into the car with a less than comfortable people to car seat ratio.

You could always get one of those little lights that clip onto your book...

(And what the hell is with blogger not letting me in? I KNOW my password is right. Anyone know how to fix this?)

Unknown said...

Yes, I'm also a compulsive pre-bed time reader. Last night, it only took two and a half paragraphs of "Lolita" before I conked out cold (one of the reasons it's taking me so long to read that damn book). I need to go to bed earlier, so I can read more.

Anonymous said...

1. That's what you get for camping. The Lord invented hotels for a reason. You want to rough it, try one that's rated less than three stars.

2. Hey, I have an idea -- get Sam a crib! Man, the way you let that kid RUN you.

landismom said...

Yeah, I'm with Wing Chun (on the camping, not the co-sleeping).

And I'm also one that has to read at night. Shit, when do I ever have any other time to read?

Anita said...

Oh my goodness - - this is too funny. It is also very coincidental because I also blogged about my worst camping experiences today (on Fighting Inertia) - - which unfortunately, don't top yours. Although they are close. Unlike you, after two bad experiences, I never camped again . . .

I can fall asleep without reading a book, but I'm miserable . . .and I would read a hiking guide, a cereal box, or whatever I had to especially because I wouldn't be talking to my husband any longer after he unpacked my book.

Paul said...

You crack me up! I think there are a lot of us out there that must read in order to get to sleep...

Your post also reminded me of an OLD "Odd Couple" show where Oscar was in a tent somewhere and had no reading material - he made quite a scene out of finding a tube of toothpaste and reading the label over and over so he could sleep!

Toby said...

Have you seen the LightWedge? It's a pane of Lucite-type material that lights up, designed for reading in dark places. There's very little lightbleed, and the device also flattens out the book for hands-free reading.

I've had one on my wishlist ever since I saw someone reading with one in a dank, crowded bar. As someone going progressively blinder due to reading (I'm a librarian, so occupational hazard), I've got to do all I can to stave off the inevitable.

Tammy said...

Oh my god, I am so getting a Light Wedge! What an amazing invention. Thanks, Toby.

Dang, Nancy. I've spent years telling Rusty I'm the Felix and HE'S the Oscar. I can't be wrong now.

And Wing, I think the better question after re-reading my entry is: Why do I let RUSTY run me like this? If he and Sam are any indicators, I'm clearly a total pushover for charming, semi-bald guys. Heh.

Erin O'Brien said...

Of course you are hot. You are fabulous, darling.

Furthermore, you are human. Hot is good. Hot is alive. Cold is bad. Cold is dead.

Pardon me, then, darlings, I have to go change the batteries in my marital aid.

Anonymous said...

I too love to read at night. Camping I'm not so fond of... but sailing I'll do in a heartbeat. My late wife was a well-accomplished blanket thief... and often by morning, I'd be lying there with only a sheet covering me... That didn't bother me too much as I love the cold. :D

Melodee said...

Where have you been all my life? What a great entry (here via BoB).

Spiky said...

This month's Real Simple has the (partial) answer to your temp dilemma: sheets made of half cotton, half flannel! Really!

Of course, you've got the kid there, so you probably need 3 vertical panels, not two -- and then there's the ears/legs issue, so that makes six separate panels, or a sheet shaped like a lower-case H or something...hmm