Since it seems less and less likely that I will find much in the way of summer work (though I’m still certainly open to the option,) my main occupation for the summer has become that of reading and writing.
Since I’ve been home I’ve been forging my way through Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. I do mean forging— my mom finally started to say encouragingly, “Alice, why don’t you read something for fun?” I finished it last night, but, man, Eugene Gant drags his feet getting from ages zero to eighteen—I swear he grows up slow and sticking as molasses. His father, Old Gant, spends a large part of the book wasting away from cancer and alcoholism, then right near the end, Ben, the only character Tom Wolfe has deigned to paint sympathetically, comes down with pneumonia and up and dies, bringing the whole dysfunctional family together and causing me to cry at a book I didn’t even like. On top of all that, Old Gant is still alive at the end, and Eugene has never had a love affair with a woman who isn’t at least five years older than himself or even achieved a decent haircut.
It’s all part of my summer reading, see, which is intended to spur on the writing of a story about a teenage boy and his little sister. Several of the other entries on the list are re-reads, including The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye, which I’m very nervous about now that I’m no longer sixteen. I also want to re-read all of The Mennyms books, which are a British children’s series about a family of life-sized rag dolls. I’m sure they’ll help me incalculably. Right now, though, I’ve begun a collection of sweet and simple essays by E.B. White. Following on his heels will be some Henry James and Eudora Welty.
I want to love books again this summer. I want to love them the way I used to. My book-habits now involve stacking them in pretty towers and smelling their pages and touching their spines reflectively and taking pride in how quickly I can find my favorite bits with having to fumble through any unnecessary pages. I’d like to read them again.
When I was a kid I sometimes read three books in one summer day. I would block out my little brother’s kicking feet and my mother’s requests to set the table and my sister’s demands to not hog the bathroom for hours at a time, and I’d simply fall into pages which pulled me along at a pace I never questioned, to the homes of lifelong friends I’d made the hour before.
If, on occasion, I did have to leave a book, to eat dinner with my family, or go to bed, or some such, I would, an hour or so later, get a funny hunger in the pit of my stomach. The uneasiness would grow more and more acute until I realized: I missed my book. I’d been holding my breath since I put it aside and I needed back in so I could breathe again.
I remember being in awe that some light little packet of paper which I could hold in my hand could captivate me for hours. Even at the time, I think I was aware that in actuality there were much smaller pieces of technology with much larger memories, but they did not impress me in the same way. I could see and account for everything that made the book what it was: the paper, the ink, the words, the little punctuation marks, and yet I couldn’t understand it. I sat down to consume the story and it ended in consuming me. A good book was something beyond.
So in the next couple months, I will remember how to love in a book, not what I pretentiously claim are its finest features: its paper and stains and ink and splendor on my shelf, but its expansive pilgrim soul which, in this world, always remains just out of reach.