Tayari Jones

An Essay by Tayari Jones


Lately, I have been having a hard time reading. The news is just too distracting and dispiriting. For weeks I kept a perfectly lovely novel by my bedside, but I only read a couple pages each evening before putting it aside, staring at the ceiling, and fretting over various national and international disasters.

In January, I decided to reclaim my (reading) time. You know how doctors say that your brain must sleep in order to rejuvenate? People can actually die from insomnia. Well, I believe that our hearts and minds need a certain amount of time lost in a book to replenish our imaginations, to restock the pond of our hope, and revitalize our sense of empathy. I had been in a crappy mood since November 2016. My attention span was shot; I took pleasure in barbed humor, and I haven’t been able to write a word. I was blaming it all on the current state of affairs, but I realized that this ill humor and despair coincided with the absence of reading.

So my New Years resolution was to keep reading, no matter what enraging news Rachel Maddow dropped on my head at 9pm. I started small, with a cozy mystery. I packed a paperback, along with a light lunch, and went to Red Rock Canyon National Park. I didn’t bring my phone or tablet, only my glasses, and my book. I sat at a picnic table and started to read. It took me a while to remember the pleasure of escape, but it came back to me like riding a bike.

I’m not saying that we stuff ourselves with pleasure reading like we’re gobbling down a frosted sheet cake. But I am suggesting that we think of reading as essential self care. We are our own secret weapon. We must take care of ourselves if we will be strong enough to fight for what we believe in and we can’t know what we believe in if we lose track of our beating hearts trying.

Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage, which was recently named an Oprah’s Book Club Selection.   Meet Tayari at Books Inc. in Alameda on Friday, April 20!