I sat down to read a book this evening. Hardly earth-shaking news, I know, but sitting down in my own home for the sole purpose of reading an actual book, made of real paper, purely as a leisure activity, is a luxury for me. Most of my reading is done on my Kindle, which resides in my hand bag, the time snatched in minutes here and there while I wait for things (and by things, I usually mean children).
The book was “Embassytown” by China Miéville. I’m a huge fan of his work, and I’m pretty sure that his being the hottest specfic author I know has nothing to do with it. I can’t even tell you how long I’ve been trying to finish the book, but I suspect it’s in excess of a year.
So here I am, curled up on the bed in the direct path of the cooling system on an unseasonably hot Melbourne evening in March, I’ve just managed to pick up the thread from where I last left off, and I’ve been reading for maybe two minutes, when I get The Call.
I’m programmed to respond in Pavlovian fashion to the word (even if it’s not my child calling; it’s a nightmare at 3.30pm in the school yard) and my feet are on the floor in nanoseconds, yet still my youngest manages to get out three more “Muuuuum!”s, each one louder and more indignant than the last, before I get to her.
“I need a towel!”
Towel is fetched. Child is pacified. I do a Grumpy Cat impression on my way back to my book.
Another two minutes in, and the phone rings. It’s my husband ringing from out of town on a business trip.
“How are you?” he says.
“I’m trying to read a book,” I reply pointedly.
Obligatory small talk over, I pick up my book. Again.
Another two minutes pass, and the phone rings. Again. It’s my husband. Again. One of his friends wants to know how long to bake the zucchini cake for (don’t grimace, it’s really, really good).
“Doesn’t it say so on the recipe you gave her?” I say. A verbal shrug comes back at me down the line.
Cooking advice is dispensed. Grumpy Cat expression intensifies. I hang up and go back to my book.
The phone rings – again. I curse under my breath.
“I got that wrong,” my husband says. “She wants to know how long to bake the muffins, not the cake.” At this point, I suspect that when I spent half my day off baking for his gardening group meeting and I said, “DON’T try to pass off all this baking as your own,” he did that thing that children do and neglected to hear the “DON’T”.
Back to my book. By this time, I think I’ve read the same two pages five times over. Youngest child emerges from her evening ablutions carrying her own book.
“Mum!” she says. “Can I read this to you? It’s really interesting…”
I sigh and put my book down for the final time. While half-listening to a treatise on butterflies (I now know that a butterfly’s wing speed is a comparatively slow 10 beats per second), I ponder on the irony on my having shared on Facebook about an hour previously an article on the decline of reading and literacy in Mexico. I’d commented that it’s not just the school’s job to teach reading and to foster a love of literature. It has to be fostered, valued and practiced in the home as well.
So who’s fostering my enjoyment of reading?