Archive for the 'For the love of books' Category

Searching for Answers at the Thrift Store



I’m looking for answers.  I want clear, specific answers.

My eyes scan the book titles  and I wait for a title to reach out with promises.  Rather than start in the more obvious Self-Help section, I head to a smaller section with a taped label, “Theatre” (on second thought, it’s probably spelled with the American “er”). The section makes for short perusal because this is my neighborhood thrift store. There are thirty-two copies of Julius Caesar, twenty-seven versions of Romeo and Juliet, six slim paperbacks of Our Town, and a bland-looking book entitled Creative Drama that tries to lull me into a sympathy purchase every time I visit.

I call out to the books as I take my time amongst the dusty tomes.

“I need to make some decisions about my life. Who can tell me what activities my children should be involved with next fall?”

Silence pervades, but it’s not unfriendly silence.

I pause in the “Old Book” section.

“How can I get my kids to stop fighting?”

I’m pretty sure the muted black and tan book with the jazzy 1960s title: The Man’s Guide to Manly Cooking, just shifted its spine a couple of centimeters in my direction, but I call its bluff and move on.

I walk to the Spiritual section and ask with a little more urgency, “How do I lose a few pounds?”

Even the food-related title, Chocolate for a Christian Woman’s Soul, doesn’t pretend to hold the wisdom I’m longing for tonight, although it does make me think about cookie dough and my stomach rumbles its own response.

I stalk to the Education section, then Cooking and Children’s and eventually land where I should have headed all along: Fiction Softcover.

The reason I didn’t start here is because this isn’t the section I go to for answers.  This is the place I go to forget the questions altogether.  This final destination is a clear sign that I’m surrendering my hope for answers in exchange for the novels in my hand that offer the promise of escape.

It’s more than the other sections have offered thus far.

As I make my way out of the maze of shelves, my arms full, I conjure one final surge of hope and stop in the Parenting section.  Remarkably I find a hardback of the exact book I’d been looking at on Amazon earlier this afternoon. I add it to my stack. The bottom of my stack.

For six dollars and thirty-seven cents, I leave with all I need.

Later, I open up the first novel and my questions pipe down quickly, almost as if they’ve disappeared.

But really, the trick is on me. Inevitably, a dive into the world of fiction, brings me back to the surface of reality with a new perspective on my life and the questions of my heart which, most likely, are different questions than the ones I thought so pressing in the thrift store earlier tonight.




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The Rush of an Unread Book

I lean forward and turn off the hot water, holding the book up with my left hand so it doesn’t get submerged into the freshly filled bathtub. The novel I balance above the steaming water is three inches thick and  I haven’t read it before. It’s an unpeeled story waiting in my hands, a complete world that exists as soon as I open the cover and flip to the first chapter. I make sure both sides of the shower curtain are pulled as tight as possible and a sigh of satisfaction escapes as I lean back into my aquatic reading room. In the new quiet, I think I can hear my heartbeat, a few extra noisy palpitations because it knows what’s going on. These kind of situations, the new book kind, can do that do me.

I don’t have to start a new book in the bathtub, I just know I’ll eventually wet a few pages there. Yesterday a new world began in the car, coffee at my side, stolen moments before the rest of the family arrived.

Because this sort of reckless, everything-else-must-wait, type of behavior doesn’t really work during the daytime as a home-school mama of 4, most of my rushes happen at night.  Instead of sleeping.

Some people who love books just as much as I do, know how to pace themselves.  Slow-release gratification.  Not too long ago I read about a man who has more than once simply not read the end of story because he doesn’t want it to be over.  So he just stops a few pages shy of the end.

I could never do that.  I want the whole story and I want it fast. It’s that pitch downward from the top of the roller-coaster, the stomach-dropping, speeding into who knows what.  It’s the acceleration of the motorcycle from o to 70, not the steady if still speedy pace of 65 mph.

Of course this method really works best with 300 page (or more) books.  A book that has some meat on it means so that I don’t have to hold back, knowing it will just stop an hour later.  The rush comes from knowing that I can sustain this world and sit in the same room with these characters for 6 to 8 hours straight, without any regrets about the pace. (For the record, I still read the short books the same way.)

Of course it’s deflating to coast to the final stop, and inevitably, there is no more story.  But, in fact,  there is still more, there is the second time I read it. I am definitely a re-reader. There is a different pace for re-reading, but I digress.

Does this behavior with books worry me?

Twice in the last year I’ve heard about an experiment done many years ago with some kids. The marshmallow experiment.  A child is given one marshmallow and told if he can wait a certain amount of time without eating the marshmallow (that is sitting right in front of him), he’ll get two.  The theory is this test reveals a certain rating of intelligence based on whether the child can wait for the bigger reward of getting the two marshmallows.  When I heard about it again recently, the scientist had interviewed some of the children in the stages following their childhood and found that those who could wait for the second marshmallow, had all around been more successful with their life.

I think I would have passed the marshmallow test.  I don’t really like marshmallows.

But what if the marshmallows were replaced with books? If they had placed a new (to me) book on the table, well, let’s hope I would have waited patiently for the second book as well.  But most likely, what those scientists would have seen on their sneaky little video screens is a woman reading a book that would eventually get wet in a bathtub.

What does this anxiousness for book gratification say about my intelligence or potential for a successful life?

At least, when my story is over, they’ll say, “she read a lot of books”, which I think, speaks volumes.


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I’m an Emotional Eater, I Mean, Reader


I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m terrible at book reviews.

Sure I can read and locate the strengths and weaknesses in a piece of bound writing, but I mean more specifically that I’m completely untrustworthy.

For a while now I’ve been a part of Goodreads, a site that sends out nice, tidy emails full of book reviews from friends(and strangers).  I think I review 1 out of every 20 books I read.  Disadvantage one of adding me to your Goodreads team.

Around a year ago my mom mentioned she’d picked up a cooking memoir from Borders, based on my review.  I thought hard, I remembered the particular book, and then thought despairingly that it was probably the last book on my list I would have picked for her.

Another dear friend keeps reading books from my list and I cringe with each one, thinking, “Did I really like that one a lot? Would I ever read it again? Surely I would never pick any of those for her.”

Completely unreliable, that’s me.

Is it just that I’m so in love with the sound of myself as a composer of words that I make these reviews up for the sake of my own enjoyment, discarding truth for a better ebb and flow?

I pondered that one for a few days.

It was then that I realized my true diagnosis: emotional reader.

The cookbook memoir came into my life just after I began enjoying food after a five month alien baby pregnancy sickness, at the time I cared much less about the author’s personal life(affairs, shallowness, other sordid details) than her rapturous descriptions of entrees.

And in dark, more painful moments I vacillate between two extremes. During the first weeks of my Dad’s mental illness I read the entire Little House on the Prairie series, an antithesis of my own situation.  In other difficult seasons I’ve found solace(escape) in children’s science fiction and books like The Thirteenth Tale-a rather twisted story, dark keeping company with dark.  Most of the books that fall into the latter category were fitting and comfortable only for the briefest moment.

“I was really surprised you liked that book,” my friend and voracious consumer of books mentioned about my review of Wicked.  Was it a four(or five) star book in my review?  It’s only in context later that I remember again the five months of nausea that only paused for sleep(of which there was little), the me shaped cushions that now belonged on our couch while the kids expected normal things like food and water.  Wicked came in the middle of those months and dark as the book may be it was extremely light in my head because it wasn’t my life!  Since then it’s sat on the shelf and I haven’t had any desire to pick it up again.

That’s it, I’m an emotional, completely untrustworthy girl with a lot of opinions about books.  So I’ve pondered what books remain even when the drama in my life settles down?  What stays on my shelf past all of the trips to sell at the used bookstore?  A precious handful.

Non-fiction and fiction by Madeleine L’Engle, Tolkein, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, and the most modern on the list, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Their mine, excuses and apology free.

You might like them, but I wouldn’t take my word for it.

As to anything else I recommend, you might ask me what mood I was in before you try it.


I take in strays-of a particular kind

I never knew I would be that kind of person.  Born without the ability to resist a small unclaimed soul, no matter the found state. With a family of six in a small-ish house, where am I going to put them all?  I only worry about that later though, not in the discovery moment, not with my sympathetic heart beating hard for the homeless.  If this happended once, even twice, it might be acceptable, not life-changing or atleast life cluttering, but I find them popping up during routine errands.  At the thrift store when I’ve run into to peruse the saturday deals, a garage sale, even at the library.  We tease my mother-in-law for being just like this, she can’t say no, she already knows their name before they’ve entered her house.  But now I don’t even wait until they come to me, I see a sign as I’m driving, logical thought slips right off the road.

I’ve taken in all kinds.  Never loved with the marks to prove it, cherished and then abandoned in a moment of haste, if it has even a hope of finding a home at our house, into the car it goes.  Sometimes I’ve had up to 70 in the car at one time.

But I might not have made myself clear.  I am particular.  I only take hairless, relatively odorless wanderers, with a guaranteed good back story.


I’m hopeless.  And completely resigned to something that makes me happy.