I had lunch with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo last summer. I ate a sandwich with poet Gary Soto earlier this year. And I munched on pretzels with essayist Bill McKibben just the other day.
Okay, I admit, I didn’t really share lunch with these authors. I ate my lunch while reading their works. My reading was “food for thought,” you might say.
As a person who loves literature, I often ask others what books they’ve read lately. Too often, the response is, “Oh, I don’t have time to read for pleasure.” Naturally, I empathize with that response; no one has time to read these days with our hectic lifestyles. This is especially true at a community college where I work because students are overwhelmed with textbook readings, tests, and term-paper assignments, and faculty are constantly working on lesson plans and correcting those tests and term papers. Still, the question remains: What have you read lately?
As a freelance writer, I’ve also been to numerous writing workshops where the speakers typically talk about the importance of reading as a way of learning how to write. In fact, one person suggested that we all read for four hours every day, and, ideally, we should do it in the morning before we do anything else.
Four hours a day? That may be possible for successful authors, but what about those of us who have to work or attend school all day, go home to family responsibilities at night, and try to find time to read before we fall asleep? If only we had a half hour every once in a while, then, maybe we’d read more.
Fortunately, that extra half hour does exist in our schedules. I stumbled across the possibility many years ago, and I’ve been taking advantage of it ever since. I call it my “literary lunch hour.”
When I discovered it, I was working as a high-school English teacher at a small Catholic school in Cohoes, New York. Through a quirk in the schedule, I found myself alone in the faculty lunchroom every day. So, rather than eat by myself, I began reading a book of old newspaper columns called The Red Smith Reader. I stayed with light sports reading for a month or so before I switched over to fiction. In fact, I read all of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick in half-hour segments that year.
The following year, I didn’t have to eat alone. The faculty lunchroom was busy every day during my lunch break. By then, however, I had found a pleasant respite from my busyness, and I wasn’t ready to give it up completely. Thus, while I returned to sharing lunch with real rather than fictional characters most of the time, I still ate lunch with my literary friends at least once a week. I do the same thing to this day.
I found myself thinking about my literary lunches recently because during the summer months especially, I always tell students about the importance of reading. I highlight the fact that extensive reading will actually make students better writers. Most students are skeptical, of course, but when you read, you gradually absorb the techniques of great writers. You see how they draw you in, how they describe the scene, and how they move you from one idea or event to another. Naturally, the transformation from tentative writer to confident writer may take a while; however, the results will surprise both you and your teachers. So rather than bemoan the fact that you don’t have time to read, why not visit the library today and invite your favorite author out to lunch.