Passionate readers disagree about a lot here on ye olde bookternet, but it seems we all come together when vacation rolls around and it’s time to pick out the book pile. Is there a pleasure more universally appreciated among the book-loving masses?
The calculus of Days Off x Location + Planned Activities x Reading Speed + Need for Variety gets all my synapses firing (and I’m a vocal proponent of not having a TBR list, so I can’t imagine what it does for pro-TBR people), and I just love everything about preparing for and anticipating all the reading I’m going to do during my glorious days away from work and the internet and pretty much anything that’s not a book. So earlier this month, when I found myself gearing up for two weeks on a remote beach, I started zeroing in on The Pile.
I added. I subtracted. I shuffled. I strategized. And when the big day arrived, I set off with my husband, our hound, and these (plus an iPad loaded with ebooks–yes, helpful commenters, I do know that ebooks are a great way to avoid weighing down your suitcase with heavy books).
Like a mix tape, a vacation book pile requires thought and precision. I wanted a variety of genres, some books to entertain me and some books to teach me stuff, and an option for just about any mood. I was excited about reading each and every one of these books, and based on my usual vacation reading pace, I thought I’d probably knock them all out.
And then a funny thing happened: I didn’t read any of them. Or any of the books on my iPad. I didn’t read anything. At all. For 14 days.
At first, I thought I had simply started with the wrong book. It was a little more cerebral than I had expected, and vacation brain was not going to let that happen. So I switched to something more straightforward, and…..still nothing. Or, mostly nothing. I read about 50 pages that first day, and I enjoyed them, but again, vacation brain was not having it.
So I gave in. I napped in the sunshine and jumped in the waves and floated in the pool and drank long before it was 5 o’clock anywhere, and I figured that sooner or later I’d get around to reading.
But it never happened. There were sunny days and rainy days, active days and quiet days, and on none of them did I pick up a book. I didn’t even want to! To be honest, after the first few days I didn’t even really think about reading. I wasn’t choosing not to read so much as it wasn’t a choice I was considering at all.
It felt a little weird not to be reading all the time, sure, but I didn’t particularly miss it. I was doing other things. I was doing nothing at all. In the truest sense of vacation, I was getting away–from work, from my daily life, from my regular habits and routines, from the way I fill almost all of my spare minutes with words. I went away. I was not myself. I did not read.
And you know what? It was kind of great. Really, the only downside has been having to explain to people who ask how many books I read on vacation that the number is zero.
Books are wonderful and amazing and magic. I love books. Of course I do. They’re the lens through which I make sense of the world. But the world is so big, and there’s so much in it to see and do that sometimes I need to take a vacation from the lens and just be in the world. I need to soak up an experience without subjecting it to analysis. I need to live my life without anyone else’s life or words or ideas floating around in my head. I need to get out of my head and just exist.
Being a reader doesn’t mean always reading, and it doesn’t mean only reading. A dear friend of mine often says that books make us gluttons for life, and while I don’t attribute my desire to do non-book things on this vacation to any specific thing I’ve read, I know in my bones that reading both makes me more curious about the world and gives me a greater desire to engage with the people around me.
Sometimes, I need to not read.