The presents we give

December 17, 2009

Books line the walls of my living room, my office, and my library downstairs (also known as “the basement”).  Books from my childhood and my mother’s childhood share space on my children’s shelves with the new Dr. Seuss and all kinds of books about planes and trains.  Books are tucked into my purse, by my bedside table, and stashed in the car for those rare but essential emergency naptimes (you know, when both kids pass out en route to somewhere and you decide to just let them sleep for a few more minutes?).  Books have given me eyes into so many different worlds, real or imagined, and let me try on different selves as well.  Books.

Years ago, I gave books as gifts to my young cousins, when they were just starting to read and it was easy.  As they grew up, however, there were more and more of them, and they were growing up and reading things I’d never heard of.  I didn’t know what they’d read, or what they were interested in, and so I finally just gave up and starting sending gift cards.  Then cash.  And then I realized I was that aunt who nobody knew who sent a card and a bill that was hastily stuffed into the front pocket of jeans on the way out to the mall, and that was the end of it.

This year, I’ve decided that even though I will undoubtedly not make everyone happy, I will try.  I went to the bookstore when the grandparents were here the other night and shopped.  I shopped up and down the aisles, through the children’s section, into the teen section, back to the classics section, and I bought every. single. young cousin one of my favorite books from childhood.

I have twelve girls now to buy for, between the ages of 4 and 16, and it was kind of overwhelming at first.

But then, then the books started jumping off the shelves and into my arms, announcing themselves as old friends, personalities nearly shouting at me, “pick me, pick me! remember me? you read me  on that long car trip, remember? i was your companion during a year of difficult rides on the school bus! i made you laugh! i snuggled under the covers with you late at night, so many nights, and you read me by flashlight!”

And then it was done.

My arms were full of old friends, classics, award winners, and not, and tonight I wrapped them up and sent them off to all my little cousins and nieces, with a note, saying “These were some of my favorite books.  I hope you love them too.”  But really?  I’d be happy if one of the twelve fell in love with one of the books, or if half of them even got read.

It’s my little way of saying, yes, technology is grand, but books?  Books will be your friends forever.


Book club

July 13, 2009

I should have read the book weeks ago.

I’ve read a lot this year, actually, as my children have grown into beings that act grown-up during their waking hours but need the sweet solace of mama’s arms as they fall asleep. I read them books, then I prop the flashlight beneath my chin, as I did as a child, and read myself books as they drift softly into naptime, or bedtime, or the endless twilight hours of summer that refuse to yield to darkness and sleep.

I love to read. Always have. But when there’s a deadline, I often leave it to the last minute, cramming as much Life as I can in the space before the assignment is due, knowing that I’ll pull together and finish the work, turn it in on time, hand it in hot from my old dot matrix printer (oh, sorry, that was college), and it’s only a question of how productive I can make the procrastination period: of course I can ace the assignment — but what else can I get done in addition?

And so I went about my business, conducting interviews with NASA mission managers, coaching soccer, potty training my toddler and doling out m&ms. When I stopped by the library to find the book last week, it was checked out – but another book looked interesting, (Accidentally on Purpose, by Mary Pols), so I checked it out and read it instead (diverting, but not complex). It was only when a friend offered me her copy on Thursday that I realized that time was short, that I should say yes, and that book club would actually come on Monday, as it always does.

I began to read. And then I couldn’t stop. A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas, was completely absorbing, if confusing in its nonlinearity, and saddening as we readers watch her husband, hit by a car on page three, try to recover from a traumatic brain injury. The author’s comfort is her dogs.

For years, I had heard about this novel and looked forward to it, thinking that surely the dogs were sequential and integral to the story: one after another, the graduate school dog, the family dog, the dog of middle age, but that time would be there for me to read it when I got around to it. It was reading the book that reminded me that time is not always there. Time is but a framework for how we live, a way to measure what is yesterday and what is today and what can be forgotten as well as what may never come to pass. Time for the author’s husband is but a moment, a single moment, and it does not always correspond to the moment that the rest of the world is living in.

How chilling. But throughout it all, the author is comforted by her dogs: Harry, Carolina, and Rosie. Life goes on for her and the dogs as it stops completely for her husband. It is an intriguing contrast, one that remains with me after the book is done. How should one live a life, and how lucky are we that we can contemplate that?

I made it through the book in a three naptimes and a half (hours before the deadline of appetizers at the local wine bar), and held it all together just fine, unaffected, just another reader, until the book club questions in the back.

What is the coldest night you have survived? What dogs helped you through it?

Oh, Kepler.

How will I possibly hold it together during book club?