I am a reader first. A reader is what I am.


Art by Mary Azarian

I love to do a lot of things. There’s never enough time in the day, or in the week, or in the year. Music, for one. Never enough time for music.

Last spring I had to get on an airplane. This is not a problem for most people. It is for me. I object to be flying both because it’s an environmental disaster and because it’s a horrible experience. Of which I am afraid. Naturally, I am afraid I am going to die. I do not want to die.

I called the lawyer to set up an appointment to rewrite our wills. “Are you flying somewhere?” he asked. “How did you know?” “Did you last fly seven years ago?” he said. I nodded. “That was the last time you called me.”

I laughed, sort of.

It is apparently standard practice now, in Vermont at least, to fill out an extensive advance directive. This document is not a whole lot of fun. It asks lots of questions I don’t want to have to think about, and I bet you don’t either. Basically, they come down to this: How dead do you want to be before we disconnect the machines?

The document also raises questions about funeral choices, etc. The truth is that I want my funeral to be held before I die. Who cares afterwards? Pas moi, I suspect. So I put that in. Why not?

What does this have to do with writing? Not much. But it has a lot to do with reading. “As long as I can read,” I wrote, “I would like to be alive, even if plugged in.”

Many of us are readers first. But when people ask us what we do, it’s hard to answer that we read. We write, we play music, we garden, we attempt to train obstreperous dogs, we paint, we ski, whatever: we DO STUFF. Yet I have read since I learned how to read. I read constantly. Read a lot. I cannot be without reading material. I take books in the car in case of an emergency. I read on the treadmill. I am an only child, and I was always allowed to read at the table (breakfast, lunch, dinner). I now realize that perhaps this gave my parents a chance to talk to each other without my whining about wanting to read. I still do (read and whine, actually). Bob puts up with it.

For years and years and years and years, most of my reading consisted of books for children and young adults. That was my work and my delight. Now I prefer to read grownup books, even though my status as one is questionable. And I still love long, long books.

I cannot read one on a screen.

I want to hold it on my lap.

I cannot hear one in the car.

I do not like those book-y apps.

I’ve read some great books recently (you tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine). Books that surprise me, please me, challenge me, amaze me. The novel for both young and old people is alive and well! I have enough books in the house to tide me over until that advance directive comes into play, which I hope is never. Too many books to read. I laugh, I cry, they change my life.

Last week we lost power in a magnificent snowstorm. We lit candles. I read. The house was deliciously quiet (and we have wood heat, so it was warm). We couldn’t flush toilets, but I could read. We couldn’t eat, but I could read. No machines purring, no writing nagging at me, no email or internet. Reading!

This is my last VCFA faculty blog post (my choice, but it’s time, even though I suggested this blog in the first place, or so I believe–). It’s been a delight, and I thank you all for reading my ramblings. I’m not disappearing, so stay in touch.

Afterword: for more on writing itself, please read this delicious post by mystery writer Leonard Rosen. It may inspire you. http://lenrosenonline.com/2013/04/harold-his-purple-crayon-and-the-writing-process/



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24 responses to “I am a reader first. A reader is what I am.

  1. martineleavitt

    Leda, I love your mind and your voice and the way you put them both on the page, including this post. And then I got to the end where it says you wouldn’t be posting anymore, and it made me so sad. It’s very dark, here in Canada this time of year – sixteen hours a day of dark. I get SADD. Are you sure you should risk making me sadder? Won’t you please reconsider?

  2. Leda, have you read Linda Grant? I just discovered her “The Clothes On Their Backs,” which was short-listed for the Man Booker prize. You might like it. As for staying hooked up as long as you can read, that’s both poignant and promising. I’ll have to consider that …

  3. Just finished and enjoyed The Boys in the Boat. I will miss your posts. This just means I’ll have to drive to Vermont for your wisdom. xoxo

  4. Leda – I leaned into this post as I read it. Leaned all the way in. Your last post…? Ahhhhh!!! I hope you’ll keep entertaining us on facebook with your dog pictures. And keep writing. And of course, reading. And yes — with a book in the lap. That is the way. I am a reader first, too.

  5. Nicole Valentine

    Oh my dear Leda, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that you have a choice in this matter. If you decide to stop imparting wisdom willingly we all know where you live. 😉

  6. Leaning in? Am I now in the company of the rich and famous? Ha.

  7. Nicole, as long as you bring Merlin, come on up and I will impart. Not exactly wisdom, however.

  8. I always knew you and I were in the same tribe–“and read. …and read” That would be me, too.

    Your voice certainly will be missed on this blog–but as long as your shaggy dog stories–or should I say tales? or tails?–continue, somewhere, we can be content.

  9. Julie Larios

    Leda, have I ever told you I adore you? Yes, I have, maybe a hundred times. Here’s One Hundred and One: I adore you. Books forever!!! (Best book read recently: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.) Send me news of what you’re reading.

    • Leda Schubert

      Julie, ditto, as you well know. And I’ve got Life After Life on the top of my pile! I just read My Struggle, Knausgaard, v. 1. And The Family Romanov.

  10. The fact that you’ve read Knausgaard’s My Struggle certainly proves you are a reader par excellence! I haven’t yet — not sure I’m up to the struggle of all those pages, but yes — Reading is a whole lot of everything for me, too, and even more now than it has ever been. Interestingly, the availability of every conceivable form of distraction has only driven me to book reading. We’ll miss you in these pages but hope you will show up at residency forever.

  11. Recent good reads — The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. I was completely taken by this small and lovely book. It’s made me completely reevaluate him. There’s a very personal magic going on here, thrilling but also deeply poignant.

    • Leda Schubert

      Tim, I fell in love with that book as well. It said so much in such a little space–and it was indeed magical and poignant. The exact two words I would use. Thank you for reminding me. Remember when we had lunch with Neil?

      • How could I forget. And I wonder if CLNE knows how valuable that meeting was. Gaiman spoke eloquently and wonderfully that night but I have a feeling he might not quite have realized, until our meeting, just how demanding his audience was going to be. He’s probably someone who can get by on charm, in certain venues, but that wouldn’t have worked with our crowd — utterly charming as he is!

  12. kathiappelt

    Leda, you did not check with me before you decided to leave this blog. I don’t recall approving this decision.

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