If I couldn't use food or love to define contentment, I would use reading. I would use, specifically, a 2001 flight to Sydney, prior to which, in the airport bookstore, I discovered a copy of In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson's just-then-released book about Australia. Or maybe I would use the three days weather-bound in a tent in Antarctica with a borrowed copy of Endurance, Alfred Lansing's Krakaueresque narrative of Ernest Shackleton's epic Antarctic travails. A fine book, in the perfect setting, when there's all the time in the world to read it: Life holds greater joys, but none come to mind just now.
One of the maddening ironies of writing books is that it leaves so little time for reading others'. My bedside is piled with books, but it's duty reading: books for book research, books for review. The ones I pine for are off on a shelf downstairs. I don't read good books anymore, it seems; I just buy them and put them on the shelf and every now and then walk over and pet them. I'm like the optimistic dieter who fills her closet with clothes two sizes too small and dreams of the day she can wear them. I know just what I want to do when I retire.
Mary Roach is the author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.