“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book”.
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I’ve always relied on books for company. In fact I can remember the titles of specific books that have kept me company during some of the loneliest times in my life. Even when it was difficult to concentrate for any length of time because of some sort of emotional tumult, I’ve always reached for a story to soothe or distract me.
They were convenient company.
As a child my closest friend lived over a mile away and the sisters and I weren’t always the most bosom of buddies so I would lose myself in Nancy Drew. I still have a lovely collection of yellow bound Nancy Drew Mysteries sitting in my cupboard. And discovering Judy Blume’s “Blubber” was a moment I’ll always remember because the voice was familiar and the story could have been taken directly from the halls of my elementary school (and I as a chubby girl so I could relate). But I think the MOST important book of my childhood was “Gone with the Wind”. I would read, and reread the story, reading all of Scarlett O’Hara’s lines aloud pretending to be a “Southern Bell” instead of a Northern Alberta farm kid.
Junior High, that purgatorial time of melodrama and moodiness, I found distraction from bullies and boys with the likes of Agatha Christie (“The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “Curtain” being my favourites). I was also entranced by Mary Stewart’s Merlin series (“The Crystal Cave”, “The Hollow Hills”, “The Last Enchantment”). Puberty was all about murder and intrigue or magicians and knights.
High School, when most of my friends would sit and snuggle in the school hallways with their boyfriends or walk to McDonald’s for a lunch date of fries, I’d sit with my newfound love Charles Dickens. I remember reading “Great Expectations”, paper lunch bag at my side, eating my cheese and lettuce (no mayo) sandwich and questioning Miss Havisham’s reason for warping Estella’s view of men. Years later, after my first break up with a boy, I understood Havisham’s motivation for wanting to rip out someone’s heart and stomp it into a grimy pulp. I also loved Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” and thought Jem was one of the most dashing figures in literature. It’s hard not to fall in love with a horse thief.
At university, when I’d feel insecure in my relationship with the boyfriend at the time, I’d read and re-read “Wuthering Heights”. It just seemed appropriate. As an adult, I remember the titles of books that have kept me company during chosen times of solitude. “Mrs. Dalloway” when took to London by myself. Then sitting on a deck chair by a lake in Jasper trying to get through” Wings of the Dove” by Henry James but being too distracted by the fact I had my heart-broken. “Anil’s Ghost” by Michael Ondaatje whilst on my way to Paris. Sitting silently with my mom on the deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean reading “The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi” by Jacqueline Park and thinking how wonderful it was to have my mother to myself.
The latest “new era” defined by a book started two years ago when I was in an automobile accident. For about four months I was unable to concentrate for any length of time on story and could only consume magazine fodder. Many a night I would lie awake unable to read the pile of books calling to me from the corner of my room. The whole experience was frustrating and distressful. To me, the inability to read for any length of time was like losing the ability to take a deep breath. I could inhale little shallow catches of prose in magazines and newspapers, but I could not breath deeply the essence and delicacies of a well-told story. That was until four months later when I went on a weekend excursion to the “big city” with my sister and attempted to read “Angelology” by Danielle Trussoni.
And I read and read and read and took a deep breath.
Since then I have surrounded myself with books waiting patiently to be read. I think I may be somewhat fearful of feeling alone and desolate without my “friends” though and am over compensating. I now have collected a multitude of hardcovers, several eBooks (as well as 4 digital titles signed out of the library). I wonder if this is a sign I’m afraid to be lonely and feel the need to surround myself with “friends”?
But patiently they’ll sit waiting for me to invite them into my life and keep me company even during the most trying times.
What am I reading now? “Bellefleur” by Joyce Carol Oates and “S” by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.
What books help date a new “era” in your life?