By Christie Wilson
Those Q&A profiles on executives and other high-powered figures that ask what books they're reading always launch me on another shame spiral when I see them in newspapers and magazines. They remind me of just how far I've let my cultural and intellectual life slip.
"Read? You mean books?"
In reality, I read all day — newspapers, faxes, Web sites, e-mails, my kids' homework — just not for fun or enrichment. I honestly can't recall the last book that I finished that wasn't a school assignment for my sixth-grader.
Books started whose final pages remain unturned include "Seabiscuit," "Bel Canto," "Life of Pi," "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," and a Lincoln biography. At least I know how that last one turned out. I also cracked open Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" and "Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck as part of a short-lived campaign to absorb some of "the classics."
Meanwhile, I haven't stopped buying books, fitting in with the pattern of self-delusion that has become the bedrock of my existence: "Oh, sure, we'll have enough for retirement," and, "Chocolate is actually a health food."
As the books pile up on my bed table, so does the guilt.
There was a time when I read at bedtime. Now I can barely get through a page and a half before dropping off to Sleepytown. At that rate it would take 1.4 years to finish your average Tom Clancy.
So, when full-fledged books seemed out of reach, I switched to short-story and essay anthologies, before retreating to magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker that contained articles I could get through in a single sitting at the hair salon.
Lately I've stooped to reading reviews about books instead of the actual books. Sadly, my literary diet today consists largely of Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek. They're loaded with McNuggets of material I can digest in small bites over a quick lunch at my desk or while waiting for my son to finish soccer practice.
I also enjoy catalogs.
Soon it'll be just the classifieds and, to cover the classics, TV Guide blurbs for "Masterpiece Theater." (Now there's some compelling and concise reading.)
Not so coincidentally, don't the crosswords seem harder than when you had a life? I feel like the main character in "Charley" when he realizes his newfound intelligence is evaporating. (Saw the movie, didn't read the book.)
Of course, once the nest is empty and I've retired, I plan to devote long, leisurely days to catching up on all my reading.
Chocolate, anyone? It's good for you.
Reach Christie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.