Six months have come and gone since my last blog post. Instead of writing I went on an epic book binge. With each book my heart grew bigger, my soul lighter. Never once did I suffer from a feeling guilt or gluttony. Just happiness. My library–and brain–expand. Shelves overflow. No. Bulge. I’ve run out of bookmarks.
Our living room can now be called our library, with new shelves lining walls, stacked with the potential to run away. A comfy chair, a table, foot stool, warm blankets– I’m ready. Where is the snow to keep me inside? I cancel plans–yes, a confession–so I can turn the page.
Start a book on the history of colors. Pivot to poetry, scattered on the floor around my chair like seeds in earth. Does it matter how many autobiographies of Bowie I own? Novels read in one sitting. Novels begun but not finished. Not because they aren’t well written, but because they are. The idea of them ending, heartbreaking.
So I join a subscription service. Two. Books arrive with illustrated covers. Covers all in black with white block letters suggesting the seriousness of what’s inside. I binge on feminist manifestos, literary journals, novelists from Norway and Brooklyn, mystery novels, classics (ah, Mrs. Dalloway!), and books so heavy I consider reading them an act of physical exercise (thank you Mark Danielewski).
Everywhere I go a book in my bag. An actual book with pages smelling of vanilla and glue. I sneak a peek at what others are reading. Do you like that book? I’ve read that book! Smiles exchanged. Off the plane, the train, I walk with a head filled with narrative: “Mrs. Dalloway would buy the flowers herself” (Woolf) and, “The cat does not offer services.” (Burroughs). My phone pings. A text from my bank: a deposit has been made. Pay day! There is a bookshop 4.2 miles away. Seated in the back of an Uber I anticipate tables of freshly published books. Hoping for a cat, if it’s an independent shop. Definitely my arms filled, wishing I could ignore my obligations, and continue my binge.
If you want to get the most out of a bookstore there is one rule to follow: enter through its doors blindly. As in, without reason. Mindlessly. No determination needed. In fact, leave all thought in a bin by the door, along with the umbrellas. When you enter, reckless, you will find yourself thumbing through books you’ve longed ignored, who grab your attention. They speak to you. Now you are impulsive. You find yourself, strangely, thumbing through a poet’s book, eyes landing on words: springy, morning air, rebels, smoke. Now you are lost in a memoir, where you might find strength, empathy. Stock up on page turners, new authors discovered because covers entice. Don’t question your impulsivity, or the titles in your stack, or the way they make you feel when you touch their spines. Why consider the cost when you never wonder how much is spent on lattes or lunches out? Just take your stack, tuck them into your oversized leather bag, walk proudly by the umbrellas, but don’t forget to collect your thoughts! Once outside you will need them. Go read! From the seat of your old car, under the bare tree in a ray of sunshine, stuffed at a small table at a crowded, loud cafe, or while perched on the top step of an old school building. Read as you ignore the slamming of car doors, children calling out to parents, to the beating of your own heart. Nothing matters, for you have blindly entered the pages of another world–you have begun to run away.
When I was a child my parents had the brilliant idea of taking my brother and I to the local bookshop after church each Sunday. We didn’t have a lot of cash, but what we did have my parents were willing to spend on a book each–no matter the cost. Once through the doors of our local independent bookshop, our family of four would disperse: Mom hid in fiction, Dad lost in Sci-Fi, brother on the hunt for books to make him laugh while I gorged on classical literature; These were the happiest days of my young life.
As I look back on these memories I am thankful to have been born into a family of readers. Books were everywhere in our house: the landing of our stairs, piled on bookshelves, and on the back of the toilet. Books arrived by mail via book clubs, passed amongst aunts and uncles with powerful endorsements, borrowed from our library. Once in our possession we’d retreat to our favorite reading spots. My parents favored their brown floral sofa, each tucked into their respective corners of the sofa, table lamps casting warmth onto pages, my brother at their feet. Me in the chair opposite, legs dangling over the arm while I chewed my hair. We didn’t often read together as a family, only when the mood struck us individually to collect ourselves and our books did we end up in the same room reading together.
Books have an incredible power to bring us together. Doesn’t matter what types of books you like to read. The mutual enjoyment of reading is a bridge-builder. When I sit beside someone reading a book on a train or plane I instantly feel a connection. Too often I ask what they are reading, would they recommend their book and why. In a way my curiosity is a form of Book Store Sunday, where there are never-ending possibilities for running away, growing empathy and understanding of the world.