"Where do you find the time?," I was asked. Where do I find the time to read? There are pockets of time here and there. In the bathroom, for instance. Not much else you can do in the bathroom, so my bathroom doubles as a reading room of sorts. Books and magazines, some mildewed from staying in a damp environment for too long. In my bathroom are Lewis Thomas's Lives of a Cell, Steve Martin's Pure Drivel, E.F. Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed, Umberto Eco's Serendipities, Sten Nadolny's The God of Impertinence, magazines and newspapers, assorted reading bric-a-brac such as a rapidly deteriorating, Speak Italian in Ten Days, and a coverless and moldy The Book of Five Rings, and printouts of e-books downloaded from the web.
I read at a leisurely pace, with no pressure to finish. I can pick up a book, read a couple of chapters, put it down for a week--a month even--pick it up again later while reading something else. I read in fits and starts, occasionally stopping while ruminating on what the author said or how he said it; sometimes agreeing, sometimes arguing, sometimes marvelling, sometimes contemplating whether the book is worth picking up again.
I also find time in the shuttle on my way to work. On a good day, the trip takes about half an hour. On really bad days, it could take up to two hours. That's two hours of nothing to do. So I usually bring a book with me for the sole purpose of reading while stuck in the shuttle. In my bag now is Gregory Maguire's Mirror Mirror.
But lately I've been thinking about things I might have missed while Gregory Maguire transports me to 16th century Italy while stuck in traffic. Mirror Mirror is well-imagined, well-written, with surprises here and there. A bit slow in places but Im not going anywhere and am more than willing to lollygag with Lucrezia Borgia. Besides, I like slow books, especially if the writer has a good ear. What Im missing are the right-there-and-then stories of the people and places around me. I look out the shuttle's window and there are lives out there. There's a mother with a baby fighting for a ride in a jeepney, jostled by other passengers in a hurry to get to work, and eventually not being able to board the jeepney. There's a traffic cop right there witnessing the whole thing but does nothing. There's an old man, well in his 70's, in a beat up old barong, an equally beat up old leather portfolio, still trying to get to his 8-to-5 at his age when he should be enjoying his last years, visiting his grandchildren, his friends, writing his memoirs, and I shudder at the thought that his story could well be my story several years down the road and killing the thought by affirming that that won't be me if I have anything to say about it. There's a smartly-dressed woman right beside me. Corporate type, talking on her phone in corporatese; a woman in charge, with no time to waste, as she climbs her way up the ladder. I can't help but wonder if ever she does reach the pinnacle, if it'll all be worth it. I wonder if she has someone to hold at night. I wonder if she has friends she can share her thoughts with, her dreams and fears.
There are stories everywhere and for a while the Borgias are forgotten while I read the stories around me. Stories I miss each morning as I shut them out and let another take me to wherever and whenever.