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A Stack of Books and a Fresh Pack of Highlighters

March 7, 2010

I spent the long weekend in Hell. I was home sick – no, not that sick – and it gave me the chance to spend three days slowly simmering in a great book. It’s one I’ve been wanting to read since the Miami International Book Fair in November, when I listened to Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer prize winning author of Hell: A Novel read, both from his book and from his Twitter account @tweetsfromhell.

The book was a pleasure, its rich literary references like old friends. There was Hemingway and his A Moveable Feast, a book that was the last one I read before moving to Miami almost 10 years ago and the first one I picked up when packing for last spring’s trip to Paris.

There was Paradise Lost, which I labored through at Oxford University as I immersed myself fully in the works of Milton and his contemporaries. And Bogey and Bacall, because, of course, movies are just as much a kind of pop literature in our day as Shakespeare and his plays were in his.

I love reading. There are few yummier moments than those spent under the covers while my son and husband nap and I’m lost in another world yet right beside them. That’s how I spent the best parts of three days being sick – snuggled up and fully sucked into a good story.

I was an English major as an undergrad, and sometimes I think I selected my course of study solely because it afforded me the luxury of having a legitimate reason to spend nearly every waking hour with my nose in a book. My junior year, I dated a guy who was in a band, and I took full advantage of tagging along to late night practice/jam sessions that helped me stay up while I fulfilled the reading requirements for a course on the American novel spring semester.   His fellow bandmates always seemed kind of offended that I’d spend those hours curled up on the ratty sofa in that cabin in the woods with a stack of books and a fresh pack of highlighters.

On my most recent trip home to visit my folks, my mom actually had to come into my neice’s room and ask me to turn out the light around 2:30 in the morning. I just pulled up the flashlight app on my iPhone, slinked under the covers and kept reading until 4:00.

One thing all of this ravenous reading has given me is a love of words. Each night as we’re reading through the pile of illustrated books we’ve carted home from the library for our son, I delight in the sounds of words read aloud. I remember when we were apart for a few months right after we’d gotten engaged, my husband made homemade books on tape and mailed them to me all summer long. He still knows well the door to my heart.

My latest obsession is reading memoirs, and I tend to read them with a bit more of an analytical eye than I employ when plowing through an entire 400-page novel in a single plane ride. I’m dissecting them, I think. I’m uncovering how the author selected the perfect pieces of her life to tell her story, arriving at the truth in the course of the telling.

I’m coming to realize that the power stories hold for me – at seven when I flew through Ramona Quimby tales, at 21 when I savored phrases by Raymond Carver and now, as I discover approaches in The Happiness Project – is the same, to varying degrees and levels of awareness, for everyone.

We fit our beliefs around stories.  We reconnect around the dinner table after a day apart through stories.  We form alliances and build teams around stories.  Whether they are the tales of how we met, what we’ve done or where we’re going, these narratives bind us as we strive to play, work and live together.

New media like this blog can be leveraged to tell those stories and draw power from and empower those bonds in the process. My hope is that (despite four days’ naughty absence) this writing can be that too.

My hope is that, like clouds that fill their bellies as a thirsty sun drinks up the sea, the words I pour in will drizzle out to nourish those who read the ones I write.

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