On Nightstands

The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.*

Mark Twain

­I didn’t read very much for a long time. I felt guilty about it, feeling that reading was part of my DNA for so long. As a child, my parents converted a closet into a mini library. As the shelves reached the ceiling, the books became more advanced. In additi­­on to our family library, each of us three kids had a bookshelf in our rooms. I’d sneak into my older sibling’s rooms and take their books.

Voraciously I’d devour the words on the page. Omnivorously I consumed series such as Encyclopedia Brown, The Babysitter’s Club, and The Boxcar Children, abridged versions of classics such as Oliver Twist, Moby Dick, The Swiss Family Robinson, and non-fiction about paper airplanes and automotive history. Without a television in our home, there were few distractions. Frosty windowpanes formed the backdrop of a little boy snuggled under blankets, reading about a tropical island where a shipwrecked family engineered their way into a life of leisure.

In the ninth grade, the school deliberated whether I should be admitted into the advanced literary classes. I was on a knife’s edge because my grades weren’t quite good enough on their own. My previous year’s teacher weighed in, suggesting that I hadn’t read the books but still did quite well on the quizzes. She thought I hadn’t read the books because I never did the associated assignments. I love reading. Of course I read the books, I just didn’t like busywork of writing about them.

Moving to Florida after high school, my girlfriend and I didn’t have a library. We didn’t have a bookshelf. We slept on the couch, together, for two months because we didn’t have a bed. When we went to buy a bed, we didn’t have any credit to get one, so we paid out of our precious little cash to buy a mattress. We didn’t have books.

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It was that easy to fall out of the habit of reading books. For years, I didn’t pick up a book that wasn’t assigned to me. After roving through a literary desert, I stumbled upon a small oasis when I realized the power of software development and began picking up books associated with work for their utility. Every once in a rare while, I’d read a good fiction book.

In 2018, we got bedside tables. Two, for $9.99 each at IKEA. Lamps, $29 each. The bulbs were $0.99 per. Soon after, as if by spontaneous generation, books started appearing on them. I started to need closet space for the books after I was done reading them. I read The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, all fifty-six short stories and four novels. I felt like I was stealing, the complete collection was $1.99 as an e-book. I read Educated, by Tara Brooks. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Dare To Lead, Brené Brown. Palm trees formed the backdrop of a man snuggled under blankets, reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.

After reading The Power of Habit and Atomic Habits, I realize that my environment is a partner to my willpower. It’s unbelievable how a small change in my environment made such a big difference in my habits. It’s given me pause when considering what I’m surrounded by. What friends I choose to spend time with, what I watch and read, what I put in my calendar, and even where I put tables can make all the difference in the world.

*Mark Twain is a person of his time. Let’s hope if he were spewing quotes today, he’d be more inclusive.

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