Administrator’s Note: Joel Haubenrich is a guy we know. He is also a guy that finally caved to the incessant emails and tweets asking him to write for the site. We hope to have Joel back on the site frequently so don’t forget to shower him with adulation in the comments section.
Well, It’s the time of year that your New Year’s resolutions should be well on their way to near-complete abandonment. Your kettlebells already have a thin layer of dust, and your designated gym-only shoes are mud-caked from the extent of your cardio workout–walking to the mailbox; you’ve been breakfasting off the gas station hot dog roller, and you’re cursing more at work. Such is the way of things, and we don’t judge you. But there is one resolution I know you made which you cannot neglect, a self-promise you cannot break, a self-responsibility you cannot shirk: This year you will read more.
And to that end, I offer this one piece of advice:
Always carry a pocketbook.
In the interest of defining terms I may say that while I’ve nothing against men carrying bags (not to say ‘man-purses’), I do not here mean “pocketbook” to indicate a rootbag capable of storing all seven volumes of Winston Churchill’s history of the War. No, I mean only this, a book that fits in your pocket.
As much as I love Willa Cather, the only reason I ever got around to reading O, Pioneers! is that my copy is small enough to fit in my pocket. I needed something to read on the Red Line from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and that little paperback fit the bill.
I discovered one of my favorite authors through a pocketbook. Having been one of those students who resisted any attempt to better myself, I had read only a handful of words written by Charles Dickens in school. Now, in a job with some downtime, I picked up a copy of Great Expectations which fit in my back pocket. There, in a garage breakroom populated chiefly by ice, wind, and myself, I fell in love.
I walked to and from my job as a route driver in South Dakota. In the winter, nothing made it seem like a good idea to walk with my hands out of my pockets, even gloved. So I pulled a book off my shelf which would fit in my inner jacket pocket: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Reading that autobiography was an incredible experience, and I almost missed it entirely. After posting something about the book on Facebook, a friend asked what prompted me to read it in the first place. Honestly, I responded, it fit in my pocket.
There are two major points packaged in those memories. First, you ought to have the option to read anytime, anywhere. Second, the very restrictiveness of pocketbooks will open you to works you’d never otherwise approach.
The first point is obvious. Of course it’s a good thing to have greater opportunity to read. Pocketbooks are the easiest way to fulfill that resolution we already agreed you made back at the Great Calendar Shuffle. (By the way, we should also go ahead and agree New Year’s resolutions are ridiculous, and what on earth is keeping you from making a self-improving resolution this instant?) Pocketbooks lend greater purpose to your fifteens, whether at a desk or in a truck, on a toilet or on a bus. You could of course call this mere escapism, that you’d be better off taking in your surroundings while on a bus, on a train, in a cubicle, in a bathroom stall. But then, you could say that about any time you choose to read. I often choose to read, for example, when my children are entertaining themselves instead of getting on the floor and interacting, or while they sleep instead of contemplating their pacific faces and composing litanies of admiration. I feel no guilt for this, because you read when you can. Practically anytime you have time to do one thing, you could be doing something else. Any time I read a pulpy adventure story I could otherwise be watching a Ken Burns documentary. Who cares? If you think it is important to read, you read when you can. Remember, there maybe a “something else” to reading, but reading is always a “something else” to something else.
The second point is much more personal. Pocketbooks expand your horizons precisely because you’re given a limited scope.The books I listed above are not an exhaustive list. I’d never have read The Spiritual Combat while walking through the American Northeastern States hadn’t it fit in the back pocket of my corduroys; I wouldn’t have read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich between classes if it hadn’t done the same; I wouldn’t have read How to Survive a Robot Uprising in interstate rest area bathrooms if my jeans had been less accommodating.
In short, pocketbooks demand you read them because they are too convenient to excuse away. Not every book comes in pocketbook form, of course. That’s what makes pocketbooking exciting. Stroll through your local independent bookstore, or your public library. Find interesting-looking books that fit in your pocket. (Remember all your pockets. In my current work coat’s inner pocket I recently carried Josemaria Escriva’s The Way, Graham Greene’s The Tenth Man, a small plate, and half a rasher of bacon. In one back trouser pocket I was lucky to fit a handkerchief.)
Stop thinking that your resolution fulfillment requires more than it does. It does not require arranging a reading nook replete with plump window seat cushions and a cup of Earl Grey. It does not require a walnut standing desk to hold your fat tome of Dostoevsky and a stiff brandy, neat. Read anywhere. Read everywhere. All you need is a pocket, and a book that fits in it.