The 4 a.m. Read

A mother of young children has limited opportunities to escape physically–or even in her mind.

So from time to time I indulge in one of the few kinds of reckless behavior that will permit me to (more or less) still function in my various duties–as employee, mother, wife and household domestic staff. Yes, instead of driving or flying to some distant locale, instead of drinking sidecars until I fall into a stupor (or somewhere else), instead of spending vast sums of money on luxurious beauty products that make me smell fantastic–I stay up late. Really late. Reading.

Don’t laugh. (Okay, laugh a little.) Some novels are worth it. They take me places I’ve never been and may never go. They introduce me to characters at a level of intimacy it would take years to achieve in real life. They let me into those characters’ minds, experiencing their experiences. And the right kind of novels–the ones I most prefer as my late-night escapes–build suspense by creating characters whose personalities and situations are somehow poised for change. And then the authors gradually introduce change, and choices, that gradually reel me in until–My God, it’s 1 a.m.! I’ve got to put this down and get some sleep!

But then it’s 1:30, and something else has happened in the book. My husband comes to bed, raises his eyebrows that I’m still up, does a bit of reading, and then shuts off his light and goes to sleep.

And then it’s 2:30 a.m. But I”m almost at the end of this chapter … so I’ll just read a bit more. And before I know it, I’m just a few pages (okay, 30) from the end, and I can’t wait to find out if the Major will overcome his compunctions and background and selfishness and habits and, at 68 years old, pursue the (second) love of his life.

(It’s Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, if you want to find out for yourself.)

So, slow reader that I am, I close the book at 4:11 a.m. More or less. And at 7 a.m. the alarm rings, and I get up, get dressed, go for a jog, lift weights, change clothes, make the boys breakfast, take them to daycare, go to work, and all the rest. Somehow, on less than three hours’ sleep. But it’s worth it, because I’ve savored a brilliant book and gotten time “away.” And I manage all of my responsibilities, more or less, and go to bed extra early that night.

I won’t say the occasional 4 a.m. (or 2 a.m.) read makes me a better person. But I will say that it almost certainly makes me a less-bad person, one who has recovered a little piece of her deepest self by embarking on an adventure of the mind. A person–whether mother, daughter, wife or harried single person–needs that every so often.

So, tell me, do you ever stay up too late reading? Or do you have another way to take a walk on the not-so-wild side–and still get to work in the morning?

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3 responses to “The 4 a.m. Read

  1. I’d write about my own weakness for staying up too late, but the dynamic has been covered pretty well elsewhere – and it’s late now, so I’m off to bed…

  2. Lately, my failing has been staying up late to write, though I’ve done it plenty of times with reading. On the other hand, I don’t have your demanding schedule, nor any more, your stamina. Still, I can appreciate the urge, which I’m sure others share, as I have in the past. I had an exchange with a poet, Beate Sigriddaughter, ( check out her work on Fictionaut–she’s a fine poet) recently. I said , ” I live to read.” and she wrote back and said, “And sometimes, read to live.” It’s hers that I think you’ve expounded on so well.

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