Friday, October 23, 2009

On Books

I heard not-right sounds coming from upstairs this morning as I typed away, finishing a chapter for my writing workshop. Uh oh. It was more than a mother's instinct. It was loudly and clearly the ick, a.k.a the stomach virus, which has mercifully not reared its ugly head in our house for quite some time, after living with us for far too long.

I ran up, offering Eli, the sufferer, sympathy and a bucket, too late. Luckily I had nothing pressing on the books today. For once, I wasn't scrambling to figure how I could pretend he wasn't sick or to press someone else into service. It was a cool fall morning, I myself had woken up way too early as usual, and I was almost relishing the idea of a sick day. Eli cooperated, feeling chipper by sun-up. Sick days with a really sad child, in pain, are not so sweet.

As it was, the two of us waved goodbye to everyone else and happily curled up on the couch, I to fold laundry and Eli to dig in to the Paddington Bear series we had found at a stoop sale.

"I love you Mommy," he said, putting his little warm head on my shoulder. Bliss in between trips to the bathroom. Lovely.

I peaked over his shoulder, trying to read a few lines, to remember why I had loved Paddington so much. Eli's running commentary reminded me.

"He is so cute! I wish we had a Paddington!" he said. "Look at his hat, he is so funny! And he loves geography, just like me!"

I smiled. I remembered all but the loving geography bit. I had felt the same way. A sketch of the little girl holding Paddington's hand was heart-melting, so sweet. We all need a sweet, funny, loyal little bear around, don't we?

"Look, I found a picture!" Eli said. In my fog of my own memories, seeing the 70s shot, I was confused. Could that be my 7th birthday party photo? Then, I remembered! It was my friend's who had sold us the series from the books that had sat since her youth in her parents' basement! There she was, on the floor, presiding over her party, seemingly in said basement. She will remember when I give it to her.

The picture-as-bookmark reminded me of a time, years ago, when I was living in Chicago. I had frequented a local library to feed my voracious appetite on a small salary. I was in the M's, looking through W. Somerset Maugham's works, trying to remember what I had and hadn't read of my favorite, most prolific author. I picked up a title, can't remember which, and something fell out. It was a picture of my niece. I laughed. I guessed I had read it, then.

With or without pictures in them, books mark a time and a place in our minds. I find so many on the street in Brooklyn or buy them cheap at stoop sales. I even occasionally pay full price. I want to support writers and the publishing world at large, after all. I have a wall of book shelves that is filled to capacity and books lining dressers, windowsills, any spare nook and cranny. I pick up old favorites sometimes, or find one I meant to read but never got to. And, sometimes, as I write my own words, I just stare at my books, inspired by the idea that a writer's ideas can be so powerful as to shape the way you think, to make you feel better or, at least, understood.

I love seeing my children discover worlds beyond theirs through words on a page. I've never been to Israel, but I could imagine it as a child reading Gloria Goldreich's Lori. I remember how sad I was to finish that book, to realize it was just a brief glimpse into another life not my own. It is important to travel, too, to three-dimensionalize places in our minds, but relating to characters in books, as you sit alone, unjudged, is like nothing else.

I know the publishing world is in a pinch, that people aren't buying books like they used to, that electronic gadgets are replacing paper very quickly. But gold stars to all those who are trying to keep reading alive, to retain, for posterity, the possibility that you can know anything, anyone, that you can know yourself, just sitting, sick, on your own couch.


  1. beautiful. this made me cry.

  2. I'm glad it moved you!

  3. An unmistakable suburban basement, with the wood panelling. The birthday party before Bounce-U. Thanks for returning the photo today!