Mom, if you're reading, stop now.
So it's possible that when I was a child growing up I would, very, very rarely, feign sickness so I could stay home and read.
Hardly ever. Like two or three times. Five or six at the most.
Usually this was at the tail end of a legitimate illness, a flu or a strep throat. My tonsils went bad in fourth grade, and the moment I'd go off a course of penicillin, the infection would return.
After the fever had passed and it appeared that I would be cleared for school, I'd use the old "thermometer to the light bulb" trick to make sure I could have one more day of me, my bed and my books, a one-child vacation from the rigors of dividing fractions.
This feeling of being accountable to nothing other than my own desire to become absorbed in a story with no other demands on my time or energies is a freedom I rarely get to experience anymore.
I was thinking about this when I recently came down with the plague. It's the inevitable consequence of my day job teaching college students who marinate in all manner of viruses and then pass them on to me. If I could find the specific Typhoid Mark or Mary, I would fail them, but the forensics are inconclusive.
Plague is a self-diagnosis, but I'm pretty sure it's accurate. Fever, coughing, fatigue, boils … you name it, I had it.
There were a couple of days where I existed at subsistence-level activity only. Most of my energy was reserved for moaning miserably, usually for Mrs. Biblioracle's benefit so she could appreciate my degree of suffering. But as the fever abated and the fog cleared, I felt a kind of hunger to take one more day and use it to laze around while making my way through a book. I'm a grown-up now, so I don't even need to fake a fever. I can do what I want!
Except that I couldn't. A few days of absence from my life while my body fought off the plague led to a pile-up of neglected responsibilities. It was like that classic episode of "I Love Lucy" in which she and her friend Ethel go to work in a candy factory and the conveyor belt's speed quickly overwhelms their ability to process the bonbons. I'd taken my eye off the line, and the results weren't pretty.
Alive, but not near 100 percent, I dragged myself to my desk and opened my email, looking through parted fingers at the horror that was my inbox.
I've been digging out ever since. I've felt more than a little resentful that being an adult denied me my day of reading. It's caused me to realize that while I maintain reading as part of my daily life, it's extremely rare for me to be able to give myself over to a book without something else — a pile of student papers, a deadline from an editor, a dinner that needs to be cooked — intruding on the experience. These days, there's a clock, always counting down until it's time to return to my "responsibilities."
My attitude is an artifact of our times. We're expected to be productive and programmed, and reading — even among readers — is often viewed as an indulgence. I wondered why we/I have come to internalize this, that reading is something to parceled out when there isn't anything more pressing. To tell the truth, I don't care for my own attitude.
I will rectify this soon. Just me and a book as I channel my inner 10-year-old.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "Funny Man."
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
by Robert Crais