Summer has been good to California this year. We are still waiting for the stifling heat and the Santa Anas that undoubtedly will dog us in September but, so far, the days have been long and balmy, sunny but not too hot, perfect for lounging around on Sunday afternoons, book in hand, waiting for slumber to set in.
After closing this particular book I just finished, a ranting essay on how globalization has killed Italian artisanal industry, I enjoy the laziness that is usually associated to endings. A feeling that lasts all of 30 seconds. I jump up like a bean, run to the bookshelves and quickly choose another tome.
“On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York. Though there was already talke of the erection, in a remote metropolitan distance ‘above the Forties’, of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendor with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy.”
This is going to be good. I am in for an avalanche of words, lengthy sentences, trains of punctuation and convoluted constructions. That and the scheming and foibles of Manhattan society circa 1850. Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence”.
There are books whose endings need to be savoured, needing time to sunk in and for which the quick beginning of another story amounts to a betrayal, and then there are those that must be shaken off fast, either to erase disappointment or because they raised painful questions or memories that a Summer afternoon will do nothing to dispel. Edith Wharton, on the other hand, can.
It always amazes me how books find me at the right time. I tend to buy in bulk, in binges I then regret and that generate piles of books now standing in for furniture. Some lay around for years before I eventually get to them but the best ones always find me when I am open to hearing their stories and, in the best of cases, be transformed by them.
Books are like friendships who cannot be imposed, forced or sought – the most meaningful just happen, by chance at first and then by turning the pages, one at a time, until you are too committed to turn back.
True friends are forever, like good books, and then there are the myriads of acquaintances that tangentially touch our lives to different degrees. Like true friends, books will come to your rescue when in need, finding you frantically turning pages looking for a sentence, a passage, a poem.
My emotional investment in the physical object must be what is stopping me from adopting an e-reader. Each special book is visually recalled, like the navy and gold leather-bound volume of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works my father gave me at 19, the pages wafer thin, the smell of pulp and hide still in my nostrils. Lying in bed on my very first night of a vacation in East Hampton, in complete darkness, my gaze out to the water nearly lapping the sliding door, I saw a light, a green light on the other side of the inlet. Just like Daisy’s light, the one that beckoned Jay Gatsby. For that night only, it beckoned me too and I wouldn’t even have noticed, hadn’t Fitzgerald’s words found a way to my imagination and carved a path that was still there, a decade later.
The power of words. Just string of words arranged just so.