Sunday, June 29, 2008

30: Reading

"Toutes gibiers c'est freres moin', I once heard some wizened if unschooled gentleman remark. Every bird is my brother. Yes."
-- John Gregory Brown, Audubon's Watch, pg. 12

I go in cycles with everything. With reading, sometimes all I want is to escape in plot, to hoist a book above me in bed and flip pages, a drone as I read on, helicopters and stolen paintings and coded messages abound. These come when my own life is full, when I can only collapse onto the bedsheets, when my mind wanders to the pile of student essays that threaten to bury me with a vengeance.

"And when she thought of her mother and father, Mei-li got so angry she couldn't catch her breath from the choking sensation. They had absolutely no interest in what she felt. It was as if she had been born an empty box, only to be filled by their desires."
--Gail Tsukiyama, Women of the Silk, pg. 115

And now, I am winnowing down the stack of books-to-get-rid-of, plucking books by their cover, reading furiously, a book a day, loving the poetic moments, which are few in some, thicker in others.

We were in Green Bay for the weekend, celebrating Ryan's father's retirement from his position as elementary school principal. On Saturday night, all were in bed at 10:30, the dogs, the parents, my husband; I lay sprawled on the den's sofa, a book held aloft in the dim light. They live in the middle of nowhere, farms surrounding them, rare houses in a small neighborhood; the sound of a siren approaching was faint and strange. Of course, Chance, the one hundred fifty pound Mastiff-lab mix began to howl along, and Sassy, the ball chaser, had to have her word. Sirens, one, two, still more, faint enough for me to question whether I was hearing things or not, and later, that static crackle, enough for my imagination to cast itself into a flurry--there was an escaped murderer in the neighborhood, or a tiger from the zoo, there was a forest fire that would certainly reach the house, or the police were going door to door in search of a disgruntled deputy. (It turns out a car rolled over at one of the sharp turns on the country highway; from the neighbor's report, the driver was young and speaking when entering the ambulance, so we hope all is well.)

My imagination is a worrier.

Our book club meets on Tuesday. My house is cluttered with bits of paper, bills to pay and critiqued poems to stash. I need to make sure I can light a grill properly, chill some wine, vacuum the clumps of cat and dog fur away, weed the last of the garden... Oh, and read the book. I always hold off until the last possible moment as my memory is the worst of anyone's at my age; of course, sometimes I cut it too close.

But for now, I am driven to the comfort of a novel in my hands, a thick book, that new smell. I have readerly quirks too: I must finish any book I start, no matter how much I hate it; I have been keeping a list of the books I read since 2003 in a tan notebook I've somehow not lost in each move; my favorite sorts of books explore character and setting and use poetry in their language (and I can tell you how many books I've read each year--generally 150+, except the years I've been teaching high school, which left me halfway); I love the way trade paperbacks feel in my hands; I worked at a bookstore for six years and still feel compelled to t.e.b. my own bookshelves (touch every book--a term used when organizing sections, though one that fell out of usage halfway through my time at the bookstore).

I love language. I could live off it as air, as honeyed breakfast, as my pillow at night.

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