It's getting to be that time of year again: time to give back the small decorative items we've perniciously pocketed from relative stranger's guest bathrooms. Woh! What? I'm kidding... That's... much earlier in the year. It is that time of year, however, when most of us have something on our minds: kids can't help but think of what they want to be for Halloween or open up around the holidays; animals are busy foraging for food and sleep; and my neighbors across the street seem internally conflicted about whether to or not stop watering the @%!damn sidewalk.
Autumn is inherently a pensive time; an opportunity to slow things down. But should our thinking affix itself to what's ahead or what has been, or like some obvious though pertinent metaphor for the cyclical nature of life and death (winter-spring, Netflix vs. Blockbuster, etc.), that is--for transition--must it be a bit of both? I bring it up because for me it feels, rather arbitrarily, like time to begin looking back on books I've read the last 10 months and singling out those that had a profound impact on my reading and desire to read more. But what's the point? By taking stock, what am I investing in? I'm in good health, I like my place, and when the clock strikes 12 on New Year's Eve I have every intention of removing my tiara, putting down the bowl of vodka-infused m&m's, and picking up where I left off in the book I will have been reading. Yet from the sounds of it you'd think I was preparing to write an almost entirely useless will while constructing a pyre out of dust jackets to die in.
I suppose as bookseller there is some incentive to make lists which represent what's new (unknown) yet loved (known and inexplicably validated by virtue of being at least heard of), not unlike the iPhone 5 or different kinds of gum. But on a more personal note, I wonder if I'm tempted or obliged to wind it down because like any storyteller (and we're each of us storytellers Mr. "Anything you can hose down I can make wetter") I'm looking forward to looking back on who I used to be through the prism of what I used to read. Which sounds as forced a sentiment as that of an older sibling off to college, "ruefully" recalling their days of "liking music" to their burgeoning audiophile kid sibling. But if instead of "used" as in "I used to..." I meant "used" as in "made use of" I'd be well on my way to getting to the point.
Books become us. In part because, as much as we lose track of what we've read and who wrote what and why our shirt's on backwards, our memory of books adapts along with our appreciation for their contents, perhaps because, as Junot Diaz recently surmised, writing is particularly cut out for conveying the internal, whereas images externalize and erect a kind of static monument. We know this on some level every time we finish one and start another. And often times go back. Even those that we abandon and end up re-gifting to friends, lying about "sadly" never having finished and/or owning several backup copies of. The intention, or expectation (or lack thereof), catalyzed in turn by a book's cover or its blurbs or meaty review in People, says as much about our sense of who we are and want to be as the hopefully confounding facts of life we gain from books we actually read.
I sometimes hear begrudgingly from customers how tired they are of reading a book they're in the middle of hating, as if it's their duty to commit to a story that told them it forks lawns routinely on the second or third date, and I want to say "Give up! Get back out there and make eyes with as many reviews and descriptions as possible!" Who cares if it's telling the truth when the lie might be what speaks to you. In my view, any book you have the nerve to finish, even if you disagree pockets of its contents, ought to be a testament to something that was holistically cared for. Even if one time it spilled red wine all over your pants and left without saying anything for 20 minutes.
As in the making of a scrapbook (no, I do not scrapbook, phhh!... I one time put some photos together for a friend, a BEST friend... who was sick in the hospital, now how do you feel?!), we honor ourselves in a sense when we compile and reflect on our experiences of reading; our efforts and our joys and disappointments, sure, but mostly our memory of how we got from here to there and in the end curated something like good taste which, if we're fortunate, we'll never put our finger on. At least, that's my excuse for having recently bought Little Master Stoker. Eek!!!
Still, like a little boy displaying his affection for a classmate by spreading lies about her sex life, I am obviously beating round the bush of crazy love I have for Madness, Rack, and Honey; The Collected Lectures of Mary Ruefle, published by Wave Books. In fact, I've spent so much time not talking about Madness, Rack, and Honey there is little left to now, it seems, judging by the look on people's faces who have been waiting in line. Excuse me...
I can only wear so many hats. Where was I? I don't know where to start with a book for which the only notes I've taken are small hearts and smiley faces. Kidding. But the truth is all of what I've written in the margins is less about than in response to what I've read, which I fear that if I shared here would do little but reveal that I in fact drew many small hearts. Instead, I'll share with you a short paragraph from the chapter titled On Secrets and confide in you that I am so pleased to know such a paragraph exists for us to read again and again. May it, like the turning of the leaves, shock us into states of contemplation every time:
"Poetry is NEVER encoded--it is NEVER a covert operation whose information is ciphered and must be deciphered--and yet is does incline toward self-concealment, insofar as it concentrates intently on what words conceal, or, to put it another way, on what language seeks to reveal" (Ruefle, 91).