“I wonder how the book got to [you]? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” ~Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
It’s true, you know. Books choose their readers as often as we choose our next reading adventure. The incident that decided me for good on the subject was a book that insisted I must read it, and when I did it, it saved my sanity.
Reading has always been how I chose to spend my free time. I poured over books as a child. Even when I was kicked out-of-doors during nicer weather, I brought a book with me and simply read outside. As a teen, I’d burn through a 300 or 400 page book in a single day – and that was between “normal” teenish preoccupations, like marathon Sorry games with Julie and giggling over boys and writing bad poetry. During college, in addition to my heavy reading for my coursework, I’d work through an average of four books a month that I chose just for fun. Four doesn’t sound like many to me now, but sometimes I wonder that my courseload didn’t burn out my love for reading.
And then I grew up (ish), got married, and became a mom. Being a mom to small children ate into my reading time like nothing else could. I was so exhausted, there were days I couldn’t recite the letters in the alphabet, nevermind read strings of them put together on a page. Reading fell further down my priority list. I hit rock bottom when, as I was trying to salvage my marriage, I gave up reading altogether. Warning bells should have been clanging in my Sense of Self station. But I told myself that I didn’t have time to read in between work crises, crawling through the trenches of mommyhood and trying to not-think my way through the inevitable divorce.
Then, a friend loaned me a book she said I absolutely had to read: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I told my friend I would read it; she seemed so enthusiastic about it that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. The truth was, I had seen the books on display for months (if not years) and I had read the description half a dozen times without any pull. The very sight of the book had started to irk me. But a promise was a promise, so I picked it up to give it a whirl. Whirl it did: the book turned me right-side up and gave me my life back.
The memoir was written by a young woman going through a reluctant divorce (though hers was sans children). She mirrored every emotion, every step I had taken so far. The likeness was uncanny. As I sipped and reveled my way through the rest of the book, each story she related had been a twist or unexpected turn I had just stumbled through. That book was a magical key that unlocked the drawer I had stuffed every bad feeling into – and once I let the bad gunk out, I started feeling like me again.
Being me again meant more books. I started driving to a nearby train station during my lunch hour and hiding in my car so I could sneak in an hour of reading. I made myself go to bed 15 minutes earlier so I could nibble away at a second book. Soon the nibbles turned into gulps and it wasn’t long before I was sitting at the table reading a book while the girls ate their lunches, or sneaking off for five minutes here and there on the weekends so I could see what happened next in whatever story I was enjoying. If I had a spare minute – and often, even if I didn’t – I was reading. Again.
In 2007, the year of marital counseling, crises, and utter personal devastation, I only read 22 books.Twenty-two. That wasn’t even two books a month. In 2008, I made a resolution to read 25 – and ended up with more than 50. It was a slow climb, but thanks to a certain book popping into my life time and time again until I gave in and read it, I was me again. I was reading.
Do you believe books choose their readers? Has the right book ever found its way to you just when you needed it?
And it feels like I have my soul, my Katie-ness, back.