Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Big Five-Oh

Sometimes it takes the bad to make you see the good things in your life. It can also help you see the bad in your life and how you can change it.

I am a very stubborn person. Downright mule-headed. I'm especially bad at making myself toe the line for rules I, and I alone, give the faintest rat's fart about.

One of my "rules" was that I only read one book at a time and once I start a book, by golly, I finish it come hell, high water or huffin-puffin wolf. I have d.r.a.g.g.e.d. myself through some god-awful boring stuff this way. I rationalized this self-torture by saying, "Yes, but look at what I learned!" (even though I may have only gleaned one drop of interesting information out of gallons of dreck).

My lightbulb moment came when I was in the hospital. My husband had brought me my current book - The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin. Now this is indeed a book full of interesting information. The forward alone is worth a look. But oh sweet Moses in a basket, is it dull. It's "intellectual".

So here I was, laying in a dimly lit hospital room, my eyeballs hurt and my head still occasionally felt like my brain was trying to escape via expansion through my skull and I have this tome of a leviathan of a "changed the way mankind thinks about itself" book that it nauseated me to just LOOK at. Then and there, the lightbulb appeared (but it wasn't turned on because that would have hurt my head, which, I guess, would make it a "dim bulb" moment, but a lightbulb moment none the less).

I thought of one of my first days working at the library when I was walking around with The Librarian, my boss, and Tom Wolfe's new novel came up (I think we walked past it). I told her, "That is absolutely his worst work EVER." She said her husband had tried to read it but just couldn't take it and gave up. She said, "I don't think anyone has read it all the way through" and I raised my hand. "You DID?" she asks me giving me a "wow" look.

I recognized that "wow" look. It's the same "wow" look I give to women who brag about how they went through 48 hours of labor with no epidural or pain medication. It's the "wow" look that means, "Wow, are you a glutton for punishment or what?" The "wow" look that means "You know, they don't actually GIVE people awards for heroic stupidity." Or self-inflicted suffering above and beyond the call of duty.

I remembered that when she gave me that look I didn't even feel the smallest bit smug or proud. I felt exactly the way I should have felt - like a twit.

But it's hard to give up habits. Everyone knows that. I had to steel myself to do it. I know how stupid that sounds, but I did. I had to drag myself kicking and screaming away from my own folly.

Now I have a 50 page limit. If I don't love it by page 50, it's "Pass!". So far this hasn't happened since Darwin.

Maybe this is why Playboy doesn't number all it's pages. So they can trick us into reading all the way to the end. Sneaky devils.