Friday, April 8, 2011

lost in dreams - a plea for real books

Something exciting happened to me yesterday. Writing my final piece for my story telling course, I was so deep into the process of retrieving memories and giving words to them, that I lost track of time and was late picking Cowgirl up from school. Only a couple of minutes. But I had been so immersed into this other world, it was a shock to lift my eyes and see how much time had passed.

This stepping out of time and into a realm beyond time is what I love about art making, writing and reading. In college, I remember my first art professor explaining how there is this more medieval experience of time when we make art and it does not conform to minutes, hours, or even days. It is like taking off on a space ship, journeying far and wide and then returning to earth to find everyone has aged but you have not. Maybe that is the secret allure of making art: it is the magic elixir of youth?

This experience got me thinking about the other times in my life when the pace of the outside world is only faintly perceived. For me, the best way to lose - and yet expand - myself is through reading. Curling up with a good book is something I learned from my mother. Growing up, our house was filled with the piles of her books: on coffee tables, on the nightstand, on the floor by her armchair, and all over the kitchen table. My mother loved to read and she devoured books on pace with her consumption of shoes and handbags.

She would read to me every night before bed and being a budding bibliophile, I would continue looking, if not reading, my books under the covers and with a flash light. To their credit, my parents never told me to turn the light out and I argue with The Husband about Cowgirl's new habit of asking for the hall light to remain on, her door cracked open "a little bit more" because I know she is moving to the end of her bed and reading after we tuck her in. I will not deny her her books.

I remember the summer my mother read me Charlotte's Web and we both cried. I asked her to read it again and she gently, but firmly, told me I could now read it myself. And I did. Over and over and over. I also re-read Stuart LIttle and all of the Little House books. I would wake up early and stay in my bed re-reading these favorite books, lost in the world with their pages.

One summer, when I was 11 or 12 with very little to do, I would walk the mile to our public library to pick out books. I would return home and spend the rest of the day reading. I averaged book a day. I was an avid fan of Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and anything by E.B. White. I remember the thrill of my first library card and the sense of arriving when I could move upstairs from the Children's room to the Adult section of the library, trading in my peach card for a light blue one. I would wander the stacks, pulling books down and scanning their pages, looking for something that would fit my mood. I read some pretty inappropriate material as a kid: Jacqueline Susan's Valley of the Dolls being one book I knew I probably wasn't supposed to read. But I discovered many authors through my meanderings. There was no greater thrill than finding a good book and discovering the shelves held additional works by that author.

As an adult, one of my greatest pleasures was to get up, make a cup of coffee and then climb back into bed to read. With Cowgirl around, that pleasure has been put on hold for a few years. I have introduced her to the joy of reading in the bath. Her school is sponsoring a reading month, everyone reading the same book and the request being families take time to read out loud together. It is a little advanced for Cowgirl, so reading an 8 page chapter a night takes us some time as I have to pause to explain or describe things in more detail. So we draw a nice bubble bath and relax as we learn more about about Emma, her black pony Licorice Twist, and steamship travel up the Mississippi river.

I remember certain times and places by what I was reading. Jane Eyre while in Scotland; Milan Kundera in Ireland; the life of D.H. Lawrence in Sedona; Harry Potter in China; Eat, Pray, Love during our first family trip to Cape Cod. And there are the books I return to year after year: Ann Lamott's Traveling Mercies; Natalie Goldberg's Long, Quiet Highway; John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meanie. The Mists of Avalon. Women Who Run with the Wolves. Old friends I revisit, finding something new with each return.

So I made a trip to the library and have a new stack of books awaiting me. A few new titles and one old friend - Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I want to clear my day of all tasks, make a big pot of tea and hunker down on the couch with a bag of snacks and my pile of books. I want to slow down my experience of time.

And here is my plea for real books - books you hold and turn the pages and find on the shelves of bookstores or libraries or in your friend's home - they carry more than just the words or images on their pages. They carry a history of readers who turned the pages, left crumbs, marked favorite passages, creased the corners or otherwise used and valued them. As much as I understand the benefit and convenience of kindles and other devices to hold hundreds of books within their lightweight casing, they do not allow the kind of discovery and connection one has when browsing through stacks of books. Come visit me and you will have access to my library; you may pull down any book and from it discover something new for yourself. But you will also learn something about me and the worlds I have visited.

There is nothing quite like holding a new book in your hands: the smell of the paper, the act of smoothing the pages down, flipping ahead to look at the pictures, and peaking at the end of a chapter when things feel too tense and you just have to know what happens. But the best part of having a real book in your hands ...

... is the pleasure of sharing your joy with another.

(A heartfelt Thank you to Natasha and all the fearless writers in The Stories You Will Tell for inspiring me to discover a love of both writing stories and reading good ones. And now, excuse me as adventure calls ...)


  1. Ah, the joy of books! I, too, remember reading as one of the great pleasures of my childhood. My mother was an actress, so I also had plays added to my repertoire of stuff to read. I love a good mystery - Miss Marple is my all-time favorite! - and a just-plain-good story, especially when it deals with the vagaries of human relationships. History, romance, non-fiction, fiction, I love it all.

    Hey, I went to the library today, too! I am so glad my local library has joined our state-wide lending network. It's so exciting being able to borrow books from just about anywhere in MA. Really widens my reading horizons!

  2. Lis!!! I'm throwing my arms around you in the BIGGEST, WARMEST hug!!! I LOVE this ...I'm dancing around in celebration of you and books. You mentioned titles - A Wrinkle in Time, I LOVED that book - that took me back to places and time that changed my life. You made me remember the reason I write - The Chronicles of Narnia's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I was in awe that someone could make me believe in a magical land beyond my wardrobe.
    Your case for keeping books alive is so compelling it makes me want to start a revolution - you are an amazing writer, photographer, artist, Mom and revolutionary. Every time I visit I ready myself to change the world...I love that. But sharing it with others...people being a part of its history - well that just makes me want to embrace my books right now....I'm coming over. I was to read and I want to learn even more about you, my friend! xoxoxox Thank you for inspiring ME!

  3. o.m.g. *wipes ridiculously goofy tear*

    i love this...LOVE YOU...i swear, we're moving...we may have to pitch a tent on your lawn but...LOL

    everything you wrote here is EXACTLY how i feel about books and reading and the magic -- the neverending magic - the reverence i never found in a church, i find in libraries....*sigh*


    thank you, dearest of hearts...xoxoxo

  4. Yes - hooray for real books:) You listed so many dear book friends here - and I'd forgotten about the different colors for library cards! And I love these passionate comments. They warm a librarian's heart!

  5. They say all good writers read--alot. You certainly fill the bill on that score. When I read what you write, I see, hear, feel what you do. Your pen is the magic wand that takes me into your life. Don't stop!

  6. A huge thank you!!! A fantastic post!
    I love books and reading and sharing those books and crying over books and getting so caught up in reading that you realize the whole evening has gone by and you have been lost hopelessly in another world.
    Kindles are but a fad - give me books anyday. I have favourites I return to, can quote, can remember where and when I read it.

  7. What a good writer you are, and travelling out of time teamed with some good books is one of my favourites too. It's in time periodes though. Right now I'm in a flow of creativity and the time flies without me noticing it.
    Thanks for visiting over at my spot and for your kind words. I really appresiated it.

  8. I too love a good book. There is nothing like sitting down for just a minute and before you know it hours are gone. I love reading in bed, at the lake, in the backyard, or on the sofa. It doesn't matter where. As long as I have a book with me I am happy and content.

  9. Lis - for whatever reason, probably of your poetic words, I can SMELL the library right now...that tantalizing aroma of books well loved. You have described my life as well as yours, one that Natasha's class reawakened for me.
    Thank you...

  10. Wonderfully written! I feel the same way about books!

  11. I loved this post so much for how well it brought me back to the best parts of my childhood. Thank you. <3

  12. Great Post....but then again, they all are....Your writing is very real.....but i love your storytelling......

    Love and miss reading stories to the children at bedtime......I do treasure those memories......

    I have pile of books on my nightstand and i am looking forward to reading each one this summer......


  13. The only thing I don't like about getting married is getting behind in reading your blog as I take care of "big day business" :) haha It's true! Whenever I get a chance to catch up, I always find so many amazing posts!

    I loved this one about books and love the self-portrait! I am a lover of real books too, and can read a lot online, but there is no replacement for a well-loved, do-eared, good smelling book! :) I am re-reading "Our Town" right now and loving it, although I stopped at the third act because I don't want the book to end, and that's my favorite part of the book and why I wanted to re-read it :)


  14. I love the way you tied all these story threads together. And I feel the same way about books. :)

  15. I agree with you 100 % there is nothing like wrapping your hands around a book and having time stop while you enter the world found in the pages. I see many of my beloved books on your shelves. I can't wait to read Ann Lamott's Traveling Mercies, it's on my summer list.

    big love my friend,

  16. Oh yes, I totally get and love this post. I recently immersed myself in a book from beginning to end, and then in circles again. It was magical in a way that the scatterbox Internet has not been..and I had forgotten in these 3 years since my son was born.