Books serve as a window into different worlds, time periods and lives, and provide endless hours of entertainment and escape.
When I was a young child, books held a great mystery that I could not wait to unravel.
I remember the Bookmobile coming to our suburban-Pittsburgh neighborhood, and the excitement of checking out picture books. I recall the thrill of applying for my first library card (and bank account, on the same day), as soon as I could write my own name. And I have a fond memory of the first book my mom bought just for me; it was shaped like a sleeping cat.
Over the years, books have provided company during quiet afternoons, comfort in stressful times, unexpected knowledge and endless delights.
Movies provide much of the same pleasure, but in the past, they were less tenable and required advance planning.
Trips to the movies, for a family of eight, were rare. Birthday party outings to theaters were special.
We anxiously waited the once-yearly TV broadcasts of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “The Wizard of Oz.” My mother let us stay up late when old Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields films ran. My siblings and I watched “Bozo’s Circus” during lunchtime (what kid didn’t love hearing, “Let’s go over the Bozo buckets?”), “Dudley Do-Right” cartoons on Saturday mornings and “Laugh-In” on Monday nights.
Perhaps I should blame my 13-year-old daughter. She’s the one who showed me how easy it is to order films on an iPad. And, she introduced me to a TV series I wouldn’t have watched otherwise.
In an effort to retain any shard of respect you readers may have for me, I won’t mention the name of the program. Let’s just say it’s about people much younger than me, whose lives I really shouldn’t care about.
Here’s what happened: During a recent road trip, I watched several episodes of that show with Pea. It gave us an activity to share and something to discuss afterwards, and those of you with teenage daughters may understand that is no easy feat.
While traveling together, Pea and I watched the last five or six episodes of the show’s six-season run, and I was left with many questions.
“It’s too complicated,” she said, with the patience of a teenager. “You’re just going to have to start at the beginning.” So, she showed me how to watch the show on my iPad.
Soon, I had it streaming when I was cooking, answering emails and lying in bed (my husband travels for work every week). At the gym, I could watch an entire episode during one workout on the elliptical, instead of covering 45 pages of a novel.
I became far involved with characters that had literally nothing in common with me.
Now, I might add that during this period, the escape was welcome. Those who know me well would agree that the past year has been more than a little challenging for my family. While my husband and I are still married, gainfully employed and well-housed, we have experienced unparalleled stress and sadness related to several loved ones.
So, perhaps a few months’ “vacation” into these other lives was just what the doctor ordered.
But the price was too high, as l stopped reading. My stash of unopened New Yorker, Sunday New York Times magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Kenyon Review publications piled up. My email queue contained more than 2,000 messages. I stopped looking for French-class assignments in Le Monde. I barely touched the assigned readings for my two book clubs, and went to meetings unprepared (definitely not my style).
I tried to skip several episodes of the program, but that left too many holes in the continuing saga. So, I rushed forward, feeling a burning pressure to complete the series before my life was totally upended. “Okay, just four more episodes, and then I can finish this month’s book club reading,” I told myself.
However, the book selection totaled about 450 pages, and there weren’t enough hours in the day – after work and family obligations – to tackle them.
Last Tuesday night, as we discussed Lent at the dinner table, Pea announced she was giving up junk food. She asked what I had chosen, and it dawned on me that banning Netflix shows on the iPad would provide much-needed respite.
So, I stayed up late that night, finishing the show’s last two episodes. I did feel a sense of accomplishment and great relief when I turned off the iPad that night. And I was more than happy to say good-bye to those self-indulged characters.
The next day, I started reading a great book at the gym, and I have several more queued up. A new day is dawning.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 10 March 2014
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