My book. We all use that phrase: I’ll get to the (laundry, dishes, litter box, job search) just as soon as I finish my book.
My book. It doesn’t matter whose actual book it is--Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown, Mark Twain, Jane Austen--once we pick it up, peek inside at a random page and inhale deeply as we clutch it in our hands, it becomes ours. Our next “Once upon a time…”(1) New bestsellers, old favorites…it doesn’t matter. Browsing through the bookstore is exhilarating; exploring the stacks at the library, reassuring. We make our choice and hug our book to our breast in a proprietary way, almost protective. It doesn’t matter that there are another hundred thousand books out in the world just like this one. This one is ours.
It’s not just the thrill of having a new book to read, it’s not just reading. Once you open the cover and read the first sentence, you’ve entered into a relationship with your book. “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”(2) I mean really. How can anyone put that book down?
The relationship continues and demands your attention. We actually put things off to read our book, don’t we? Maybe even neglect some things? Like children? I remember one time when my son was young, maybe about two years old. He had been sick with a cold and was a little less energetic than usual. He was playing contentedly on the family room floor with his blocks and I took the opportunity to read my book. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." (3) Suddenly, I realized he had gone quiet—he had fallen asleep right there in a pile of Duplos. Did I scoop him up gently and transfer him to his crib? Nope. I left him right there and greedily finished another couple of chapters of my book. In my defense, I did remove the blocks from under his cheek and cover him with a blanket.
Being in the middle of a book is like heeding a siren’s call. Glancing at it on your nightstand as you change into your PJs both excites and calms you because you know you will soon be propped up with a couple of pillows, tucked happily under the quilt and cracking open your book to the page you left behind this morning, sneaking in just a few more pages before having to go off and make a living. Stupid jobs...they get in the way of everything.
“Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant.” (4) But when you have a book with you, it’s like an anchor for your soul. We know life changes in an instant; it’s reading what others write about it that connects us to a greater understanding about our life experience. Our book gives us a tangible hand to hold, a constant friend at our side. Our books, their authors and their characters stay in our heads and guide us. I want to be cool like Kay Scarpetta, funny like Erma Bombeck, smart like Joan Didion. Even as my reading habits ebb and flow depending on how busy my life is, books occupy a place in my life that is not like any other object in the world. A book is both inanimate and animate at the same time. I loved all the books I’ve read and all the books I will read. As William Goldman writes, “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” (5)
1. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm’s Fairy Tales
2. Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups
3. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
4. Joan Didion, The Year Of Magical Thinking
5. William Goldman, The Princess Bride