Books, the adventure and the peace of mind


To the Editor:

In response to [At Large: Following one reader’s trail, but not getting very far] made me think of my adventure into the world of books. As a child, I watched a lot of television. Reading was never a family activity. We never read. We watched TV from morning to night. I must confess I did look forward to Sunday night with Walt Disney. And I enjoyed Perry Mason. I liked solving the crime with Raymond Burr.

I recently came upon the name of the writer who created Perry Mason. I probably would have enjoyed reading Erle Stanley Gardner crime novels. I passed so much time in absolute boredom, limited material resources, and living in a concrete maze with nothing to fill up my time or imagination.

At about the age of 20, when I attended a junior college in Boston, I took a couple of literature classes. It was there for the first time that I was introduced to some of the great American writers: Thoreau, Poe, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steven Crane, Steinbeck. I still remember the voyage out to sea written by Steven Crane. I was with him in the boat battling the raging sea, struggling to survive the storm. And Jay in The Great Gatsby, the lonely outsider. And Hemingway: the bullfights and cafes. Every once in a while, when I had free time, I read Fitzgerald and Hemingway. And then there was the best seller list published in the New York Times. So, I read John Grisham, Baldacci. I read Like Water for Chocolate and The Celestine Prophecy. All the books showcased on the front shelves of bookstores. In those days, I never visited the local libraries.

Springing forward. A bit before my midway journey in life, I came upon the Divine Comedy on CD, a rather good translation by a former poet laureate. Having someone read to me was such a joy. So during the evenings I became a lazy reader, listening to professional readers read novels or poets reading their own work. Discovering the joy of reading had many rewards. It was a defense against acute boredom. It satisfied my desire for knowledge and adventure, and most important, it provided me with some emotional relief. It was just a matter of finding the writers that spoke to my heart and mind. It opened up a whole new world. I even learned about art – towering museums around the world in a nicely bound book borrowed from a public library.

Sometimes I wonder, if I had begun reading earlier in life some of those good books, would it have relieved my battle against depression? The battle began early in childhood. Light and darkness. Fighting the darkness. As a child I slept a lot during the day because I was always tired. And I had many sleepless nights because I was born an adult. An anxiety-ridden experience. And the boredom of living in a poor Boston neighborhood with nothing to do. In my early teens, I explored paths of stimulation and relaxation. Mind-altering drugs. I gained temporary relief.

It wasn’t until I had had a breakdown in the late 1940s that I became a avid reader and recreational biker and walker. I had lots of free time. I was discharged from work because I was really sick. So I entered the world of books. I broadened my view of the world. I began reading works in translation. I read a lot of books about books. I have come upon so many good books. One of my favorites is Blue Water, published in 1923. I became an armchair traveler. A virtual experience. A voyage in the Mediterranean. It was a book borrowed from a library, so I had to return it. At the same time I had to own it. It is no longer in print, so I discovered print on demand. It came without photographs and sketches, but you can’t have everything. I have never been sailing. But I will always remember learning about fitting out a ship and preparing for a voyage and stopping at interesting places. This book satisfied my desire for adventure. And then there is Ian Fleming. The books, and the movies. The power of the imagination to create James Bond. An alter ego. Experiencing the adventure of 007.

I remember reading Samuel Johnson. He had something to say about teaching your children to read. It had something to do with preventing boredom. It’s true. Reading and walking in the woods have mitigated the pressure of depression. The doctors have suggested mind-altering drugs. I said no. I am going to keep walking and reading until the money runs out. What then? Who knows. I am having too much fun enjoying the present moment to care. A real adventure on the Vineyard. A snowy winter. Testing the limits of my endurance in the cold. Pushing myself. Walking when I don’t feel like it. The bus on the North Road or South Road never far away. A concrete coordination system. Investing a little time reading trail maps and the bus schedule.

I am lucky to experience these adventures on the Vineyard. And at the place where I stay, the people are very kind to me. And the bus drivers. So much of the experience has to do with the people who have crossed my path on the Vineyard.

Rachel Schmoker

Boston and Vineyard Haven