There’s something dreamy about starting a big ass book. One that’s like 400 pages and up. And not a lil compact paperback. Like a real-sized book, four inches thick or better, even on thin paper. You can feel its construction in your hands. It’s structure seems different. You begin it accepting that you’re about to be in this world for a minute. You’ll be holding that book many times–enjoy it. I felt like that reading Black Boy last summer. And The Sympathizer and The Idiot and now with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. I’m still in the first inch, and I’m just happy to be here.
I think part of what I love about reading is that it suits the nature my anxieties. No pressure, it’s my speed, my choice. It’s all about me. I don’t need to read anything I don’t want but I could always choose to read something. And once I’m in one and I catch the writer’s pace and style and flow, I can just let go and be in it. And no book is forever. It ends, and you can move on to another. And there’s always another. I also like to keep my hands busy, so I have a lot of opportunities to read. Like it’s hard to focus on a movie or tv show at this point. I have to have something in my hands in the meantime. In my head, I’m thinking yea yea. What else is going on?
Or even getting ready to go somewhere. Dressing me and my kid and getting my bag and does he have gloves in his coat pockets just in case he decides to jump in the week-old snow? When I have a plan to stay at a friend’s house for a few days or maybe a week, I’ll get anxious about the whole thing. I’m thinking about coming back while I’m packing up bathroom products. Same thing for having a visitor. Sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes I’m like how long will this go on? When will it go back to how it is now, before they arrive? I’m the type to clean up after a party that same night. When I was teaching in real life, I’d head to work and have to sit there for at least fifteen minutes to formally accept that I’m about to be available for public consumption for the next 6 hours.
But a big book is nothing like that. It’s a unique kind of time and body commitment. You decide to get involved, knowing you will reach the other end. There are days ahead of you when, if nothing else, you’ll be returning to that book. Like I keep A Little Life by me at night. The point I’m at right now, I get the story. I know who the cover is about. I see where certain things are heading and accept the mystery of other situations because I’m sure I’ll get to it. Even tho I know have a long way to go, I’m fine with it. Maybe because it’s enjoyable to be with it. It’s a worthy companion. The book is usually in my hands. I bring it wherever I go.
I went to grad school for English literature a few years ago and took away something greater than Shakespeare which is the knowledge that I could teach myself anything I ever wanted with only a book, if you’re a good enough reader. How to do be a good reader is the big lesson I got in college (well, that and speak up). I try to pass it on to my students too. How to read a sentence. How to pay attention and be there in those words and worlds. Understand that that’s you. Find you in that book. Find good lines that stand out. Think about them. What do you care about in this text?
Problem is, most of the reading assignments for them are online and that’s just not the same I don’t care what anyone says. I hate eBooks and reading apps. I like seeing words on paper not lights on screen. I specifically don’t want to be on camera or have audio recording me. I just want to read. Damn. Like I loved reading We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was so great reading his essays in print. Even having read some of the pieces, it was a different experience. No advertisements, pop-ups, pictures or links to other posts or whatever else they put on all these websites. Just you and his words.
And that’s a big book too. I remember carrying it around a few summers ago in the park behind my house watching my son play. Comfortably with it, just standing holding it (not so comfortably when I had to pick up my then-toddler for a minute). But yea I always have a book. Leaning on the fence with it. Sitting on the steps with it. Just standing there with it in case I need it. And why not? I get to either be there and not. I’ll stuff Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism in my handlebar slot of my bike and ride around the parking lot. I don’t care. I just like having a book. And short ones are cool, but a big one just feels good.
-Rachel Wagner 2021
My bookstore: Ten Dollar Books