11 Nov

When I was young, maybe about ten or eleven, I noticed that my Dad had a few books that he kept by his bed. Nothing controversial or creepy, he just liked to keep his small library near him so that when he read at bedtime (the only time to read for him) he could have his pick without having to get up and trek to the bookshelf. Among his books: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, Illusions and Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, and something that at the time seemed weird called A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which I thought was a real book about a real confederacy.

Obviously the first and last books were a bit above me at the time. As I grew up, however, I became something of a quote hound and loved gathering quoteable lines from authors and artists and displaying them in my journals and musing on how awful my life was and how these quotes could lift me up out of my suburban, white picket fence (literally), three square meals a day, supportive and loving hell. It’s really that when everything is always so good you start to think, around thirteen, that things won’t always be good, or, worse, weren’t always so good but you just don’t really remember it so you start to invent it.

This is about the time I picked up Illusions and I felt like God had answered me. He had given me an entire book that was infinitely quoteable. This is where I first learned that what you put out there you get back. And that you should never, as the Doctor says, ignore a coincidence, unless you’re busy. In the book there is this part where one character tells the other one that you just have to think of something really hard and it will come to you. So he thinks of a feather and then the next day or so he’s looking at something. And there’s a feather. BAM. I was hooked.

But the thing is, life has sort of become this weird cyclical world for me. I spot connections–yes I know, my brain is built to do that–but I never know quite what they mean. So I ignore them. And then they show up and I think, oh yes, I’ll take advantage of this and then I never do.

Right now, the biggest example in my life is the author Ben Lerner ( I was the kind of kid that thought growing up to be a writer would  be “easy” and would be “brilliant” and would be “easy.” So, I enrolled at the local University and proudly declared my major to be “Imaginative Writing” which by the next semester was rightly called “Creative Writing” because imaginative sounded like something from the world of Harry Potter (or so I assume). I had a really supportive and creative and, in her own right, brilliant professor. She was unlike any professor I had encountered and immediately was a great resource for all things literary. One summer, after feeling like Letters to a Young Poet, Illusions, and Billy Collins’ extraordinarily accessible and loveable collection of poems, Sailing Alone Around the Room were somehow just not enough for my expanding literary palate, I asked her for a book list. She gave me this:

Ooga Booga by Frederick Seidel

Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine

as well as a few others. I immediately interloaned the books through my library, and, finding them exciting, purchased them on Amazon. But, like most college kids, I was starting a new relationship, living on my own for the first time, and going to school full time with a small part time job to pay some bills (beer, food, that kind.). I ignored my new little library. I flipped through Angle of Yaw and found myself so in love with the writing that I had to stop reading! Why couldn’t I write like that? Lerner, you jerk! You’ve made me feel terrible about myself! So I abandoned Lerner and his lovely sentences.

Flash forward about 6 years. It’s 2012 and my husband (back then the boyfriend distracting me from Lerner and Rankine) has work to do in Spain. I’ve spend the past 7 years working in a library and have become better and better each year and navigating the piles of books I “should” and “should not” (what does that even mean!) read. So I decide to go to Madrid for the week (more on this later for sure). Because the librarian who purchases fiction at my library is amazing, I decide to take the book Traveler of the Century by Andrés Neuman to be read in Spain.

But something weird happens. I’m at the Reina Sofia and I see this book, one that I had seen many times before at the library, Leaving the Atocha Station…by BEN LERNER. And I think, that name looks familiar. I know that name. And I look at the author and it’s the same author as Angle of Yaw. And I know it’s fate. And I know that because I hadn’t finished the book of poetry, I need to read this book.

So I do. And it’s perfect. I’m an aspiring poet in Madrid. This book is about an aspiring poet in Madrid. I’ve been feeling like I need to figure things out about this whole life thing and That’s when I start thinking about my Dad. And how he’s always told me that if you think about something and open a book you might find a useful sentence. And I think about how just a few months ago the library held a book club and read A Confederacy of Dunces and I didn’t join in and he, randomly, gave me his copy because he didn’t want it anymore.

I guess, the point is that, maybe we aren’t ready for the  books we want to read. I’m rationalizing the fifty unread books I’ve purchased over the last two years. The thing is, I always seem to read these books that have a profound impact on my life out of order. Only when they present themselves to me, myteriously and profoundly, at the right time, do I get the point. I need to read something in this book. Call it a God moment, call it being a human reading something into it, or call it magic. Whatever you call it, I call it wonderful.


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