Judy Greber is a peace-loving woman who lives in Northern California with her husband, her ancient cat Mehitabel (does anybody recognize that name?) and the world’s cutest puppy. Judy has written four mainstream novels.
Judy mutates into Gillian Roberts when embarking upon crime. Gillian’s supposedly penned sixteen mysteries, including the award-winning Amanda Pepper series, all of which are about to be released in e-book form by Untreed Reads. (And Caught Dead in Philadelphia, the first in the series is now available in every e-format and from Untreed Reads itself.)
Gillian—(or maybe Judy?)—recently finished a “novel with murder” set in 17th century Mexico. When/if it’s published, the ego and the alter-ego will battle it out as to whose name goes on the cover.
THE SCARLET R
by Gillian Roberts
I’m not calling it a bucket list because it isn’t a list—it’s a single item, and it isn’t something I want to contemplate doing before I die—it’s something I’m about to do right now. I want to read.
Of course I already read, but right now, I want reading to be my answer when anybody asks me, “What do you do?”
I want to say, “I read. In broad daylight.”
Not that I’ve ever stopped reading. I’m never without a book, and if I were forced to choose between reading and writing, or, like some other writers, unable to read fiction while writing it, I’d stop writing fiction. But I have nonetheless accumulated hundreds of unread books. These are physical books, p-books as my sons call them. We aren’t going to talk about those electronic volumes accumulating on my Kindle. Nobody but I can see them. They don’t totter in huge piles or fill up the secret insides of a large cabinet or fill bookshelves.
I should feel guilty about my book-buying problem, but I don’t. Diamonds aren’t my best friends. I have a pathetically small collection of shoes, and when stressed, I do not seek out retail therapy.
But I do buy books. New books, second-hand books, paperbacks and hardbacks. I also borrow them from the library and from friends. (Those don’t accumulate. I do try to get them back to their owners promptly.) But if there is a way to acquire good things to read, I do it.
Then one unhappy moment, I looked at the huge inviting stacks and did the math. Assuming I can read 50 pages an hour (which is definitely not always true and depends on the book) and assuming the average length of all the books still unread here is 350 pp,(which is also not necessarily true) how long would it take me to read what I already owned?
I counted how many books I had and multiplied how many hours reading them might take.
Then I factored in my age.
This was a sad moment of truth. At the rate I’m going, if I don’t buy another book (and what are the chances of that?) I will have read down the piles when I’m 247.
Raped by reality, a good friend used to call moments like this.
Given that a writer seldom actually (willingly) retires, is never given that gold watch and told to go forth and enjoy indolence, there would never be that fabled easy-chair and long hours with books. I would be stuck with my usual reading pattern. That would be having it as that final activity of the day, enjoying a book in bed until my eyes crossed and I accidentally dropped the volume on the head of the poor old cat curled on my lap.
Either I could hope to be the new Methuselah or I could accept the idea that I’d never make a real dent in the bookpile.
And then I had a heretical idea. I’d (finally!) finished the new book, dressed it warmly, packed it some food for the road and sent it off to find its place in the world. As usual, I then thought about what I wanted to do next, which also as usual, meant what did I now want to write.
And then I actually thought outside the box, or more accurately, outside the manuscript. What did I really want to do next? The answer was clear: I wanted to read other people’s writing, not when I was at the point of exhaustion and the day’s work was done, but in the daytime.
This, to me, is a heretical, daring and guilt-inducing idea.
While buying books is not fraught with guilt (I’m helping my profession if nothing else) reading them in broad daylight is. The Reading Nazi’s rules clearly state that reading for pleasure while the sun is shining is allowed under only five conditions:
1. You are on vacation anywhere, especially on a beach or by a pool.
2. You are on a plane, train or bus, getting yourself to somewhere else.
3. You’re taking a course and the book is required reading. (That is the real reason to be a lit major.)
4. You are reading to small children. You’re being useful: they can’t read them themselves and also, often as not, it eases them into naps. (While they are napping, however, you cannot read for your own pleasure—that’s a time to get things done.)
5. You’re reading pleasurable books to the old or infirm. This is a good and virtuous thing and for somebody else’s enjoyment, so this is allowed.
Aside from those exceptions to the rules, daytime reading is for utilitarian reasons. It is okay to read a useful text before dark. Consulting a cookbook, doing homework or research, checking a word in the dictionary, solving a problem with a helpful how-to do-it magazine article, reading the news--not Hollywood gossip—all of those are permitted.
But reading for pure pleasure when you could (and should!) be Doing Something Useful—that’s forbidden. Downright sinful.
I come from a family of readers and I’m sure nobody ever told me these things or set down these rules but they are firmly imbedded in my old brain. Are they in the atmosphere, floating around? Do other people feel that way?
In any case, that’s why breaking the rules will be so exciting.
So what am I going to do next? I’m going to read. Anything, any time, anywhere. I’m thrilled by the prospect of all those good books awaiting me.
But aside from the pleasure of what I’ll find between those covers is the guilty pleasure of what’s already in my head. Habits are hard to break, so I’m sure I will be constantly on the lookout for a great gaunt man in Puritan garb, ready to make me wear the scarlet “R” for the sinful pleasure of reading for fun in the daylight.
Who could ask for anything more?