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 ...)