Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Warning: Reading Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

I love to read. I read for work, for information, for fun, for relaxation. I might could (there’s another one of those Southern double modals) live without books, but I’m not quite sure how I would accomplish it or how happy I’d be. Most of my life, I’ve wished for more time to read. Family, work, housework, cooking, buying groceries—you know, all the other things in life—have often crowded out my reading time. But now that I’m on leave from teaching and am reading ALL THE TIME, I’ve discovered something. It can make you sick.

I start my day with an early workout, but after breakfast and a few morning chores I pretty much plant my rear in a chair and read the rest of the day. (Some of you are probably not feeling very sorry for me about now.) I’m preparing for my oral comps, which cover one hundred years of literature and the corresponding history and criticism, and I don’t have the rest of my life to get everything read. So, I sit and read the required material, usually from about eight or eight-thirty to about five every day. At least. (This does not count my devotional reading, poetry, or reading for pleasure. This type of reading occurs before and after my “work day.”)

Well, by the time my “work day” is over, my back hurts, my shoulders hurt, I can hardly see, and I’m a little sick to my stomach. Oh, and my brain is usually mush.

You may say that I should postpone my workout until mid-day, but I have learned that if I don’t work out in the morning, it’s not going to happen at all. It’s a body clock thing. I know it would help if I’d get up regularly during the day and do jumping jacks, or run up and down the stairs, or pull some yoga moves, but I’m driven, you see. Calisthenics and lower back stretches take up time and don’t help me check off anything on my way-too-long reading list.

Well, I haven’t solved this problem yet. I just keep plugging along, enduring the pain and agony, solemnly holding to my purpose even if I am bent and crippled by the time I stand before my inquisitors. At least, as I immerse myself in 18th century British literature, I know the authors of that time could have felt my pain. I just had to smile when I ran across a passage written by Edmund Burke in 1757:

“Labor is not only requisite to preserve the coarser organs in a state fit for their functions, but it is equally necessary to these finer and more delicate organs on which, and by which, the imagination and perhaps the other mental powers act. . . . A long exercise of the mental powers induces a remarkable lassitude of the whole body. . . . Now, as a due exercise is essential to the coarse musculature parts of the constitution, and that without this rousing they would become languid, and diseased, the very same rule holds with regard to those finer parts we have mentioned; to have them in proper order, they must be shaken and worked to a proper degree.”
--- from A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful

I think ol’ Edmund and I are talking about the same thing, but our voices and diction are quite different, don't ya think?

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