Reading by Headlamp

Hurricane Sandy took out the power in my Connecticut town. Other than losing four huge pine trees in my backyard, which, when they fell, crushed the kids’ play set to smithereens (no deer were hurt in the collapse, strangely enough), the only loss we suffered was the loss of power.

Of course there are losses associated with the loss of power, like all the food in our food and freezer that we could not manage to eat our way through in the first day or so, and any sense of Halloween, which came and went with barely a trick or treater and no carved pumpkin in sight (the squirrels, driven mad by Sandy, ate all four of our pumpkins in a frenzy).

But I also experienced an incredible gain in my week without power: time to read. During the day, there is little time. I have to work on my next book, having sent off the latest book to my publishers (just before Sandy hit — what timing — and what a coincidence that it is a book about letters: no electricity required to write them or receive them, bless you U.S. postal carriers). I then do all the chores necessary to staying in our house, like boiling water to wash dishes, dragging in armloads of wood for the fireplace, sniffing food to test for edibility and scavenging for fresh food — i.e., going to Stop ‘N Shop. But then the moment I’ve been looking forward to all day arrives. The sun sets, darkness falls, and I settle down in front of the fireplace. I put up my feet, put on my headlamp, and start to read.

Since Monday, I’ve read Stephanie Pintoff’s Secret of the White Rose and Anne Perry’s The Sunless Sea, both great mysteries set in the time before of TV and Facebook, when kerosene lamps worked just fine and evenings were spent sipping spirits and talking out problems (and solving murders, of course). I also read The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen, the story of two sisters growing up on a windswept cliff in the wilds of Canada in the beginning of the twentieth century. Their hardscrabble lives (the title tells no lies) inspired me to stay put in my powerless house, drag in more firewood, and pull more books close to keep me warm. I read on, polishing off with joy a biography of Amy Lowell, amazing poet and woman of the early twentieth century, and Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers.

Are you detecting a theme in my reading, of life before electricity? There is method in my madness, and the method is to recover what I lose when I rely too much on electricity, when I spend time on Nashville and The Walking Dead, on keeping up with Facebook and house cleaning (I cannot vacuum without power!). Yes, I miss hot showers and cold milk. But I was lucky enough to suffer only the edges of what Sandy slammed down on my part of the world, and in the end, she offered more than she took. She sent me a reminder of just how much I love to read.

I love reading more than I like hot showers and cold milk, and way more than I like vacuuming or even a clean house. I spent a year reading a book a day and you would think I could never forget just how great it is to sink into a book and let the reality around me float away. But we all need reminding, now and then, and Sandy sent the message home.

What’s up for tonight? Jack Finney’s From Time to Time, about a time traveler who goes back to the turn of the century, in an effort to prevent World War I. Magical thinking, and magical reading.