The summer I rediscovered books

A proud East St. Louis native and U of I graduate, Julie Wurth is one of those Champaign-Urbana short-timers who stayed – 29 years and counting. As a News-Gazette reporter, she’s covered higher education and just about everything else, and authors the “Are We There Yet?” parenting column and blog.


About a year ago, I was asked to contribute to the “Reading Matters” blog.

I panicked. I hadn’t finished an actual book in ages. Don’t get me wrong. I read constantly— The newspaper, in my hands. Our website. Other media websites. I read news releases and board packets, emails and PDFs. I comb websites for background and spreadsheets for data. I digest scientific research way over my head. I browse Twitter on and off during the day, ostensibly to post stories but inevitably to get sidetracked by the latest  election/Olympics/parenting news.

I reflexively turn on news radio in the car, when I can’t read. I check my phone for headlines during downtime. But a book? For grown-ups? Not lately.

I’m always been a reader. When I was growing up, our house had reading material within arm’s reach no matter where we sat. A pile of magazines. Books on an end table. Newspapers in the kitchen. Paperbacks on the nightstand.

I spent a month one summer recovering from a bad case of poison ivy, reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings while lying in air-conditioned comfort on our living room couch. But now I’m a parent of two. For a long stretch my reading material consisted of Corduroy and Good Night Gorilla, and later Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse.

Then my kids started reading on their own, as I got busier with life: returning to work full-time, dealing with family health crises and schedule craziness. Every once in awhile I’d optimistically check out a book from the library, only to nod off every night trying to make it through.

But this summer, my daughter and I went to the library together just before a planned vacation. She picked up a half-dozen books, and I checked out three – two “light” mysteries and Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s riveting account of her solo hike on the Pacific Trail.

Wild by Cheryl StrayedThat night, my daughter called me into her room and asked me to read to her, something we hadn’t done in quite awhile. I was so tired that I literally dozed off once —
Mom!” — and completely 
made up one sentence because the words were swimming across the page. She laughed. But I was glad I did it.

I went into my room and opened one of the mysteries, and miraculously didn’t fall asleep. The books kept me company all through our summer travels, and even when we returned—to the point of interfering with things I should have been doing (like work). I got so engrossed in Wild that I’d spend an hour reading in the morning, before everybody woke up. I’d tuck it into my purse to read in waiting rooms or during lunch breaks. When I finished, I had that familiar longing for more—the sign of every good book.

Then I squeezed in a fourth book that I picked up at a friend’s wedding reception (their theme was “libraries,” where they met in law school). I finished it a few days before school started. 

And the very next day, as it happened, I got another email about that blog post. So here I am, with actual books under my belt. I’m hoping “The summer I rediscovered books” will carry over into the fall. If not, there’s always next summer.

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About iprh

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1997 to promote interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
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