"Danger: Don´t Read Indoors!"
by Daniel Fishman
My parents1 invented a rule for me in my middle school years: no reading indoors during the day.
They were full-time writers. They didn’t like me reading so much.
They said things like, “You should be outdoors. Playing. Doing something.” Meaning reading is
doing nothing. Is that how writers should talk about readers?
On procrastination breaks from writing, maybe, in their writers’ uniforms (stained old bathrobes,
everyday pajamas, worn-through slippers) they filled coffee cups, or watered plants, or consumed an
unshared snack while they put me and my off-track life back on track (in their own minds) by pushing
me to leave that unnatural reading life behind.
Who were these people?
My step-father brought Spiderwoman and X-Men comics as gifts from trips, shared his
childhood love of The Hardy Boys by reading their mysteries out loud, tried to broaden my reading
experience by giving me John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley the year before the rule. (Later he’d
give me the work of his writing mentor, Joseph Hansen, and his own beloved and well worn copy of
John Updike’s Bech is Back to help me learn to write.) Mom brought me poetry anthologies as gifts
from her trips, considered certain authors and books sacred, wept with gratitude when I traded treat
tickets at a school book fair for my own first copy of Mary Poppins the year before the rule. She read
Kaufman & Hart plays to me when I was sick, as her mother had to her. She knew Jane Austen and E.M.
Forster could teach you how to love, and she pushed copies of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure on me
periodically as if it were her own spiritual autobiography.
These two people didn’t want me reading so much. I shouldn’t be wasting time reading other
Instead, I should do something normal and useful, like run around outside with other kids or
beat up some other boy. Interact with the beautiful landscape they’d brought us to.
To be fair, the outdoors world was astonishing. Just past the wide, open back porch, a wooden
dock to the air, the world fell away in slopes into canyon. Acres of oak meadow and chaparral over the
dry decomposed granite as the basis of the soil, home to snakes, gophers, lizards, sage brush and other
native plants in profusion hiding quail, live oaks and cacti clusters providing homes to songbirds of all
kinds, while kites and hawks wheeled over all their nest sites as hunting grounds. Definitely worth
looking at, worth exploring.
So with the new rule in place, I never read indoors during the day: I went out to the porch, under
or up trees, in fields, meadows, groves, on rocks, by creeks, and in skylit caves, and continued my
reading of various books out there in the Great Book of Nature.
Now, I must say, I’m grateful. For those great reading experiences, and all the ones that came
after. In college, by the banks of Strawberry Creek in damselfly mating season with Toni Morrison’s The
Bluest Eye, surrounded by the darting blue male “devil’s darning needles” (another name for dragonflies
and damselflies) and the gray females whose clear wings caught such sun glitter, as they bent their
bodies into the heart-shaped mating position. Over the murmuring water of that creek, communing too
with Diana Wynne Jones’ Magicians of Caprona and Dante’s Inferno (closely related works). Learning
from the squirrels in the redwoods and C.S. Lewis how to deal with John Milton’s undending egregious
argument (clothed in his magnificent language) in Paradise Lost. The sunny shady pleasure of Sexing
the Cherry with Jeanette Winterson in the hammock in the plum tree of my twenties. How the
hummingbirds bragging and brawling worked their way into my writing, under the influence of Cesar
Vallejo’s wild imagery and sublime language, and the divinity of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments
series with its monsters and Shadowhunters fighting and falling in love, surrounded by the climbing
clusters of pink roses called Cecil Bruners and the deep red crocosmia known as Lucifer in the gardens
of my thirties and forties. Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling unfolding their worlds’ dangers and dances
with the pollinating bumblebees among the constellations of agapanthus blooms. Redwoods and beaches
and books, human voices in symbols, translated through my synapses with the wind and salt in the air.
I guess I should thank my parents for the rule. I do some of my best reading outdoors.
1 Meaning here two of my three parents, my mother and step-father; my father had no part in these shenanigans.
Fifth generation Californian D.H.R. Fishman began this story with some family history
about his great-great-great grandparents’ arrival in Southern California. His work has
appeared in print and online in places including San Diego Poetry Annual, Poppy Road
Review, Lucidity, and The Walrus