In the fall of 2005, my husband and I moved to London. He was completing his second year of law school, and I, essentially, was tagging along. I got a job working in the private insurance billing department at a hospital. I also got pregnant. Being in the family way did nothing to improve my commute to work, which involved a nearly hour ride from our studio in West Kensington.
Despite the nausea, my commute did offer me one incredible benefit: nearly 2 hours each day to dedicate to reading. I quickly learned how to jockey for a seat on the train- a task that became increasingly easier as my pregnancy advanced. The passengers on the tube were, in general, English reserved, but I learned fairly early on that they still noticed what I was reading. Case in point, I received more than my fair share of dirty looks when I read Philip Roth's The Plot Against America - the cover of which was branded with a swastika.
Maybe this public scrutiny is why I became such an ambitious reader during my stint abroad. I discovered The Modern Library's 100 Best Novels, and I determined to read at least the top ten. I passed my time on the train reading Lolita, Catch 22, The Grapes of Wrath, Sons and Lovers, Darkness at Noon. I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but found that even public scrutiny was not enough motivation to compel me to finish Ulysess.
Turns out, London is a wonderful city for a reader. The platform walls of the tube areplastered with advertisements for new novels. My walk to the musty old library in Hammersmith took me down quaint roads, with lovely, grassy medians that were filled with wild daffodils in the spring. I got on a Margaret Atwood kick, and, one morning, in the middle of reading Oryx and Crake, discovered in The Guardian that she was doing a reading of her new book Penelopiad that very evening. And so, quite simply, that night I went and saw Margaret Atwood.
Of course, my time spent in London wasn't all strawberries and cream. I was homesick and pregnant. My co-workers didn't get my sense of humor. I spent a lot of time alone, worrying about my baby, worrying about my complexion, worrying about everything. I think now I may have been mildly depressed. I remember one Saturday in particular, when my husband was claimed by his studies, and I was, once again, home alone. I went to the Tate Modern, but, somewhere between the first and second floor, my depression claimed me. I rushed back to our studio apartment, feeling like something inside of me was breaking down. I cried. And then, I picked up The Time Traveler's Wife, tucked myself into bed, and read. As I read, I escaped from my studio apartment, I escaped from my loneliness, I escaped from my anxiety, I escaped from myself.
Okay, I know what you're thinking. Cue the Reading Rainbow theme song if you must, but really, it's true. Reading does allow you to go anywhere - even when you're already far from home.