I don’t have time to write, nor do you have time to read through all the details of how I grew up and the things I learned to do just to survive in this mad world. We’ve all had to do that to some to degree.
The one area of my life where I always felt inadequate but overcompensated heavily by being arrogant and smug, was reading. While my classmates were pouring over Moby Dick, I was reading the Cliffs Notes the morning of the exam. While my adult girlfriends were debating the morality of Charlotte Bronte’s love for a married man in Jane Eyre at Tuesday night book club, I was hanging out at the local tavern sucking down cheap white wine. I knew enough to hold my own in a conversation at a cocktail party, but press me even just a little on the details, and I’d find a way to excuse myself from the conversation.
I’d figured out that being well-read was important, I just missed the memo on actually reading books to achieve that status.
When I got sober awhile back, it occurred to me that if you fake it ’til you make it, you end up a phony. A phony at 46 years old in my case. And that realization will bring you to your knees. Or at least it did me.
Have you ever done that before? Pretended you were something you weren’t for so long that you believed it with all of your being, and then felt heartbroken to learn it wasn’t true? The lies we tell ourselves are sometimes the hardest to unwind, and the most disappointing when the truth is revealed.
So I’ve set upon a path to re-read everything I should have consumed as a young person. Things like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and 1984 by George Orwell, both of which I recently finished. (Damn, those were dark!) I’m on to Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger very soon.
To put this massive undertaking to be who I’ve always said I was in perspective, I’ve read more books in the last 10 months than I did in the last 40 years. That makes me cringe a little, but it also makes me very happy.
Oscar Wilde said it quite well:
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”