I sometimes wish I worked at a public library just so that my obsessive reading habit could be put to some professional use. It is not very useful for academic librarianship.
Last night I finished a book that is going on my list of favorite books ever. It is called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. It is about friendship and being a woman in a remote part of China during the 19th century. I do not want to say much more because I want people to find about it for themselves. I have liked the cover for a while and had planned to read it eventually. But when I heard my mother rave about it so much the last time I saw her, I had to push it to the top of my list. It is an incredibly beautiful story, and she clearly put a lot of effort into the research that was required. It feels incredibly genuine and true, and I can't wait to read the other books she has written.
After finishing this book last night, I wandered around my house wondering what to do with myself until bed time. I felt like starting a new book right away was being unfaithful to this incredible one I just finished. But I had bought a book called Inkheart (at a wonderful Indie bookstore in Ithaca) this past weekened, and I read the first 30 pages. I believe it is going to be really good as well. The two main characters are a bibliophile father and his bibliophile 12-year-old daughter. The lessons the father teaches his daughter to encourage her bibliophilia are beautiful, like "Books have to be heavy because the whole world's inside of them." At another point, he tells his daughter, "If you take a book with you on a journey... an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it."
Of course this last passage made me set the book down for a moment and think about this. And I believe it is true. Whenever I see the cover of The Time Traveler's Wife, I think of reading it when I went camping by myself in Maine a few years ago. Daughter of Fortune makes me think of reading it in my empty apartment in Bloomington, Indiana, waiting for my stuff and boyfriend to arrive. The sunlight through the blinds is the strongest part of that memory. The last book I read in that apartment was Smilla's Sense of Snow, though I think I finished it just before the movers came to take the furniture away. The Little Prince was read sitting on the floor next to my bed in my third host family's house while living in France. The floor was really hard, but I was so delightfully surprised by how good this book was and how quickly I was reading it in French that I was too lazy to get up and sit on the comfortable bed. I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia over the telephone to an ex-boyfriend, and I remember after each chapter asking "one more?" Some nights we read until 11 or 12 o'clock, and I was delightfully exhausted during the next day, just to do the same thing all over again once 9 o'clock p.m. rolled around. I remember scrambling to finish Les Miserables for an 8th-grade book report while sitting under the tallest arch of the tallest roller-coaster in the world (at the time). We were staying at the campground at Cedar Point which was right next the fence of the park, and the Magnum was right under the fence. I believe I might have forgotten that memory if I hadn't been reading Les Miz at the picnic table, looking up as each new set of cars went over the top of the arch. I vividly remember picking up Indiana and Lucky at the Evanston library near my Chicago apartment. I haven't fallen in love with any of my libraries the way I fell in love with that one. And I took My Sister's Keeper with me to Seattle for spring break my last year of grad school. I remember how hungerly I was reading it in the airport as my flight kept getting delayed again and again due to bad weather.
Would I have remembered these tiny details if it hadn't been for these books? Certainly not all of them. They would have lost their significance. Perhaps that would have made room in my memory for more important things that I can't seem to remember, but I can't help feeling that books are as almost as important as anything else. They allow you to experience things you can't or don't have time to experience in life, or things you wouldn't really want to experience in life but are worth experiencing in a book. I believe they make you relate and empathize with others better, expand your horizons beyond the constraints of life.