The Books We Love
January 27, 2016 § 10 Comments
A guest post from Claire Amy:
Tenth of December
The man I am in love with and can never have is, of course, a reader. If he were not, probably my heart would have been in less danger when I sat opposite him at the lunch for which I had paid with a considerable donation to charity. He wanted to know if I’d read George Saunders. I’d walked past Tenth of December in my nearest bookstore, picked it up and put it down again, thinking, someday. I had done this countless times. After The Lunch – after the phone calls to the two or three friends who had wanted immediate updates– I walked to the big independent bookstore in his town and bought the Saunders book. In the email I sent my lunch partner the next day, I told him I would start it on the plane back to DC. But there was a late night and a rush to the airport. (There was also a missed plane, which in the romantic comedy based on my life would surely be when he caught up to me.) I wasn’t awake enough to do the book justice.
In any case, he didn’t email me back immediately to begin the dialogue I had hoped would start with extensive discussions of books and end in a marriage proposal. (Though hopefully not over email. Hopefully on a beach at sunset, or at a rooftop bar overlooking the White House. I am a conventional girl.) So it didn’t matter, from that perspective, that I didn’t read the book on the long journey home. I spent the ride instead with my eyes closed, my head leaning against the side of the plane, trying to remember every sentence we had spoken, every facial expression of his, and damn it, was it a soy latté or a soy cappuccino he ordered? And why, when he asked me what the novel I was writing was about, did I simply say “doomed love” instead of coming clean that it was about a girl with a crush on an actor? Would the conversation have taken a different turn if I had said that? Would I even be flying home at all?
Desperate for any connection with him, I read the book he had so loved. I savoured it over a few months. It blew me away. When I finish some books, truly exceptional books, all I can do – all I want to do – is sit with my emotions. This was one of those books. And it was one of those books not only because of its brilliance, but also because it drew me closer to him. Because it made me fall in love a little more with the man who had fallen in love with this prose.
Way back in 2010, long before The Lunch, he and I had communicated for the first time, albeit indirectly. He was being featured on an interview show, and questions had been invited from us humble folks out there on the Internet. I had just seen in a magazine piece that he read a book a week. So because I wanted my question to be original enough to get chosen, and because the books people love are, I think, key to their soul, I asked: what is the best book you have read this year? He didn’t hesitate on this one. Freedom, he said. I bought it, of course, though not immediately. I had not long finished The Corrections; I’d very much enjoyed it, but I wasn’t ready for another Franzen just yet. I finally ordered Freedom in early 2012; it sat on my shelf in Belgium for a while and then moved with me to America, where it sat on my shelf for much longer. But soon after I finished Tenth of December, I spent a few days in bed with a cold and Freedom. There’s no denying that Franzen is a master of prose and deeply insightful about the human condition; there were moments, however, when I thought if I read the words cerulean warbler one more time I might throw this book at the wall. When I was done, I wanted to take the book that the man I love so much had loved so much and whack him over the head with it repeatedly. In play, of course. In jest. In flirtation. There would be a kind of shared experience in that too.
The Cranes Dance
Around the time I finished Freedom, a book by Meg Howrey called The Cranes Dance popped up on my Goodreads feed. Great look into ballet, mental illness, and sisterhood, my friend had written. Ballet! Another connection. He had talked at The Lunch about his teenage daughter’s love of dance, the potential future steps he and her mother were exploring for her, his pride in her another nail in the coffin of my ability to ever think about any other man. (He talked about his other children, too, almost as if careful to make sure they got a fair and equal amount of time with me.) Maybe this book would captivate me; maybe I could email him after I had read it and recommend it to him for her. Maybe this would be the thing leading to the long email exchanges I had been daydreaming about since I read about his one-book-a-week aspiration in the magazine article. I loved the novel, but that was in part because of the cynical, jaded voice of the narrator. Not appropriate for his daughter, I decided. I wanted to shield her from cynicism, from jadedness. I feel very protective of his kids. A therapist would, no doubt, have a lot to say about that, and even more to say about the ballet lessons I started taking after reading the book. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, I would tell her: after it, therefore because of it. I read a book and it inspired me. Nothing to see here. Certainly nothing to question. But we would both know that isn’t true.
Claire Amy lives in Washington, DC. She graduated with her MFA in May 2015, and currently interns for a magazine and for an organization which promotes reading. She is a regular contributor to a popular books website, and her essays, poems, and journalism have appeared in a wide variety of publications, from writing and lifestyle magazines to a national newspaper.