Last night Apparent Dip and I went to a bookstore (no surprise there, it’s something we do two to three times a week it seems). As the ever-insightful Emily has pointed out, books are like drugs, and I need a regular fix. I don’t always buy books when we go, but there’s something about walking between the shelves that rejuvenates me and soothes me when I’m stressed. Anyhoo, last night I picked up a copy of the new MLA Manual of Style (I’ve documented my nerdy love of style manuals before) and sat down with my tall Americano with a triple shot of espresso (my other drug of choice). And then it hit me. Here I was in a cafe reading through a style manual, which I picked up in part because it’s something I need for work/school. When was the last time I just randomly picked up a book to read? When was the last time I wandered through the shelves without having a specific title or author in mind?
My method of selecting books has changed dramatically over the years. As it should, I suppose, but I also miss the days when I was more random in my choices. I have fond memories of the public library in my hometown, where I spent a lot of time in the summers (because it was air conditioned and filled with books, what else does a girl need?). I would wander around the fiction stacks, completely oblivious to generic divisions, bestselling lists, etc. And I would find a book that looked interesting–usually one that was really fat with tiny print–and I would hide up in the children’s book section and read for what felt like hours (our library had this fake “train” thing upstairs–little cubbyholes with cushions where kids could hang out and read. I’d stack the cushions up against the doorway so no one could see in). In Fanny Herself (which, by the way, is partially based in my hometown), Edna Ferber has a great paragraph describing Fanny’s reading habits:
Fanny Brandeis had a way of going to the public library on Saturday afternoons (with a bag of very sticky peanut candy in her pocket, the little sensualist!), and there, huddled in a chair, dreamily and almost automatically munching peanut brittle, her cheeks growing redder and redder in the close air of the poorly ventilated room, she would read, and read, and read. There was no one to censor her reading, so she read promiscuously, wading gloriously through trash and classic and historical and hysterical alike, and finding something of interest in them all (41).*
This image really resonated with me when I first read it, and it continues to do so. I, too, used to read promiscuously, often to the point where one of the librarians would wag her head disapprovingly when I checked out books that she felt were inappropriate for my age (Nothing smutty, really. I just had delusions of grandeur and tried to read War and Peace when I was in seventh grade. I liked to carry it around with me–it felt solid and full of potential in my arms).
I haven’t really read promiscuously in quite a while. So last night I threw caution to the wind and picked up a book that I’d never heard of before, by an author I’d never read about. It’s a fat book, and it’s the first of two volumes, so I know that if I finish and like the first one, another fat book awaits. It contains the first two books in Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, The Jewel in the Crown and The Day of the Scorpion. And although I feel somewhat guilty that I’m not reading books that will patch the holes in my literary background for grad school, there’s a sense of excitement every time I pick this book up. There’s an adventure waiting for me in those pages. I have no idea if I will appreciate it when I look back from the other side, but for the time being, I feel like the younger Sarah is standing next to me and reminding me why I love to read in the first place. Now I just need to find some very sticky peanut brittle!
* Edna Ferber. Fanny Herself. New York: Grossett and Dunlap, 1917. Google Books.