Reading (With Love) Again

January 18, 2022

When I was younger, before marriages and divorces, moving about 13 times, twice across country, and finally settling back in LA for my full-time English professor’s job, reading was my superpower.

But lately, okay, for the last four or five years, when I walked past my books overflowing on my shelves, dangling like caterpillars from oak leaves, I glance at them, maybe give a random teasing caress and then quickly walk away as if I’d somehow done each book an individual wrong. I had. I wasn’t reading.

My desire to read was still there, but the time, no, the dedication to making time to read, was missing. I know other people survived COVID by delving into books, but I survived by well, surviving, and listening to a few books on tape. Yet I still hadn’t settled on one book with the love, voraciousness and commitment I’d done for most of my young adult life.

I missed folding myself on the couch or in a chair and getting lost in space and time; I missed romances that collided and ended in happy, sappy tears, I missed digging into painful critical theory books that detailed the path colonization took across Africa. I missed the quiet around my home, that stilled space that circled me.

I made a decision.

Like I tell my students, I started small. I sat down on my couch, TV off, cell phone face down, and I picked up my favorite writer’s magazine which I’d freelanced for a few years ago, and read the complete article about Al Young in one setting. Accomplishment one. I felt my brain cells expanding with the knowledge of Young’s life and career as a writer. Two days later, after discovering I had to quarantine myself due to several friends testing positive for COVID, I calmed myself by reading another article in that same magazine, and then decided to commit — I devoured the entire publication. What a rush I felt completing a reading project.

Then the real test. I perused my bookshelf to see what I needed to read for writing my next two book projects, a second memoir, the follow up to my first one, Black Indian, and also something to help me ease into the writing of my next collection of poetry about the founders of Los Angeles for the City of LA fellowship I was awarded. As I slid my fingers across their spines, reacquainting myself with titles and covers, finally settling on The Mason House by T. Marie Bertineau (also because I had an upcoming author’s talk with her). I also pulled down Nikky Finney’s Rice and Ntozake Shange’s Ridin’ the Moon in Texas, for their imagery to help me finish my next book of poetry about Nina Simone. I stacked several other books like pancakes within easy reach on the living room table for good measure. Because guess what, I was reading again!

Ever the overachiever, a thought leapt into my right eye.

“How long do you think it would take me to read and reread all the books on my bookshelves?” I asked my partner, eyes sparkling with ambition. “Three lifetimes,” he said and kissed me to soften the harsh truth. Maybe that was my real problem.

I wanted to read everything at once and inject stories into my vein like crack. I had to slow down and learn again how to savor the power of the word just like the writer who’d sat down to savor, research and patiently put one word in front of the other to make a sentence, then a paragraph, chapter and ultimately book. I’d done this multiple times with my own books. I knew the work and dedication it took to write a book.

It’d taken me a lifetime to accumulate the over 1000 or 2000 books (5000? I’ve never counted). It might just take another lifetime to read the ones I deposited on my shelf along with re-entering the other stories, everything from Toni Morrison to Morte d’Arthur. But I don’t really need to do it; I simply want to spend time with my friends.

And I’ve got, (breathe), time.

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Books I’m reading now (or diving into during 2022):

  1. All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles

  2. Legacy of Orisha Series by Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone, Children of Virtue and Vengeance)

  3. Dear Memory and OBIT by Victoria Chang

  4. African Cherokees in Indian Territory: From Chattel to Citizens (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture) by Celia E. Naylor

  5. The Mason House by T. Marie Bertineau

  6. Rice by Nikky Finney’s

  7. Ridin’ the Moon in Texas by Ntozake Shange

  8. Glow by Ruth Forman

  9. Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo

  10. We Are Bridges: A Memoir by Cassandra Lane 

  11. Homegoing by Toni Ann Johnson

  12. California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History: Indigenous Confluences by William J. Bauer Jr.

  13. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 by Benjamin Madley

  14. Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles by Nicolas G. Rosenthal 

  15. Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda

  16. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown


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Pushcart Prize nominee, daughter of Mixed bloods, a USC Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities Fellow, and a Department of Cultural Affairs City of Los Angeles (COLA) Master Artist Fellow, Shonda Buchanan is the author of five books, including the award-winning memoir, Black Indian.