On the Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, I went on a book bender.

The snow was falling fast and furious when I got up in the morning, making me wish I could just curl up on the couch with a blanket and the novel I’m reading but haven’t picked up in at least a week and a half for lack of time. And because of a little guilt at the lusty way I’m reading it, since it’s a psychological thriller and this is Christmastime, and I think it’s sort of ugly to voraciously read about bloody heads during the celebration of the birth of the Lord. I picked a fine time to get sucked into a genre I haven’t read in years, eh?

There are lots of reasons I can’t curl up on the couch with a book for hours. Unfortunately, my back is one of those reasons. But another is that my house is in serious need of a cleaning when I have some free time. And we always want what we cannot have.

I’m 3/4 of the way through this book, and I have one more new one to read after this. But then I’ll be left bookless. Sure, I could go to the library, and maybe I will. But for a few quiet minutes at work, I got on thebookstorekiller amazon.com and went a little crazy. Fiction to history, Boleyn to bio, a dozen books wound up added to my electronic wish list. It was a feast for the reader’s soul, even if the books weren’t real and I was merely making a list of the ones I wanted to read but for which I would first have to pay. I even gobbled up a few pages via the Amazon preview feature before I remembered I hate reading from screens (blogs excepted). Then I remembered I’d promised myself I’d go to the anchor branch of the library, just a few blocks from the new house, while I was on vacation and get myself signed up. And I didn’t get there. Sigh. Alright, put that on the to-do list for the upcoming week.

I buy books. Simple reason: with adulthood comes the responsibilities that don’t allow us to determine a deadline by which we will have a book finished. It’s been so long since I’ve gone to a library, I’m ashamed to say, I don’t even know how they do things in the digital age. Can I renew my books online? Reserve a few? I should know these things. I’m friends with the PR guy for the entire library system. (Not an amazing feat – the man is uber-popular. Practically a local celebrity.)

Curious? Here are the books on my wish list, in no particular order:
The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
Half Empty – David Rakoff
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
Cronkite – Douglas Brinkley
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – Doris Kearns Goodwin
A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson – Robert Caro

I’m really not much of one for the Tudors, but I’ve heard such great things about Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels that I’m curious. Maybe I’ll grab those from the library – that way I don’t have to spend the money on them if I don’t like them. But oh, I love putting a finished book on the bookshelf and living with it after. A bookshelf is a list of things accomplished, stories known, lessons learned, places visited. It’s a solid show of intangibles. Mine is my favorite piece of furniture in my home. If you want to know what’s on it, you can always check out my On My Bookshelf page. It’s a list of all the books I’ve read in the last few years. When I finish one, I add it to the top of the list. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve given myself permission not to finish a book I’m not enjoying. That never used to happen, but now I can’t see good reason to waste time on a book I don’t like. And I’ve found good reason to read one twice if I like it a lot.

There’s such a filling satisfaction about getting lost in a great book. We crave it, we book lovers, don’t we? Like we crave warmth or chocolate or sex or sleep. We need it to survive.

So, on the fifth day of Christmas, as the clock ticked toward the sixth day, I settled for warmth… and 30 pages of a psychological thriller.

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My Endless Love

I am in love. 6′ tall, dark, handsome, strong, supportive, full of wisdom and humor and interesting things that I could spend hours just absorbing with all the fibers of my being… on my couch, in my bed, even on the kitchen table.

Here’s a picture.

Isn't he dreamy?

Why, what did you think I was talking about?

I kind of love all my furniture except the stuff in my spare bedroom that I bought for $700 when I graduated from college 12 years ago. I don’t have much: a couch, a loveseat, a coffee table, an end table, a kitchen table and four chairs, a pine wood standing cabinet that I currently use to hold kitchen stuff but could use in another place for towels or tchotchkes or other accoutrements, and the bedroom set that I bought when I moved here last year. I really, really like it all, and I’m still sort of proud that I bought it all myself. But my bookshelf has a special place in my heart.

I bought it at an unfinished wood store the year the Cardinals played the Red Sox in the World Series. It’s oak, so the shelves wouldn’t bow under the weight of books, or in humidity. Jack let me use him and his SUV to pick it up and get it home. My brother-in-law told me how to stain it myself and said I could either use polyurethane or tung oil to finish it. I sanded it by hand, wiped it down with tack cloth, and brushed on a coat of dark chocolate stain (while watching the World Series, and, at one point, talking on the phone to a guy who wanted me to come work for him). Then I let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied another coat of stain. Let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied the first coat of tung oil (because it penetrates and conditions the wood and leaves a less obtrusive sheen, and won’t chip like polyurethane can… I learned). I forget how many coats of tung oil went into that bookshelf. I stayed up late to work on it. I remember worrying about the rain outside warping the wood as it stood in front of the sliding door, or keeping the stain from drying. In fact, there are two places where some of the stain wiped away because it wasn’t quite dry enough before I started the next round of work, and another place where the stain dripped and then dried that way, refusing to be rubbed away with sandpaper.

It has character. It has a story. I did it myself.

And then I filled it with books.

I love books. I’m not a bibliophile in the strictest terms; I won’t read just anything and I don’t limit my reading to super-high brow stuff. But I hate to throw books away or give them away or sell them. I hate to loan them out and never get them back. I write my first initial and last name on the first page of every book I own when I loan it out, so the borrower knows to whom it belongs.

I want it back. I don’t care how bad a book it is.

I don’t want my bookshelf to be too cluttered and full, so I worry that I’ll need another one soon, but don’t have a place to put another one. I like that I’ve left spaces for bric-a-brac, photos in frames (which look much better when I haven’t turned them around so you can’t see who’s in them), clay vases hand-thrown by a ruggedly handsome, ruffly-haired man I met one fall at an art festival with my friends, and my grandmother’s Hummel that she made sure would come to me when she died because it reminded her of me.  I like that it has this clock in the middle of the middle shelf…

Twice a day...

…. even though the clock is broken and will never tell time again except twice a day. I like that the clock sits on top of a book my ex-boyfriend edited, because it’s the one thing I will always respect about him even though he’s a total jerkface.  I like that this book stands up in the back of the second shelf…

… because one Christmas I found it and bought four copies and wrote inscriptions on the front page for each of my three sisters and wrapped them for Christmas morning so we would each have a copy in our homes.

Books can bond people together with their wisdom and commonality.

I like that I’ve put the “crappy,” pulp fiction, super-bourgeois stuff on the bottom two shelves so I can put the more impressive stuff above it. It may be pretentious, but it’s my way of prioritizing, so that someday, when I absolutely have to get rid of some books (ack), I’ll know which shelves to pick from.

At Christmas, I put my Dickens Village houses on top of the bookshelf, set on a fluffy layer of fake snow, with white-limbed fake trees (regular and pine) and O-mouthed choristers and Little Charlie Dickens on his mother’s lap on a park bench, and Tiny Tim on Bob Cratchett’s shoulder while Bob drags the family’s tree behind them and a dog runs alongside. With gaslight lamps that really light up (but aren’t really gas) dotting the path.

That bookshelf holds the fantasies that I’ve cradled in my hands, curled up with a glass of wine or immersed in a warm bath, escaping. It holds my getaways, my fascinations. It holds the things I read in middle school (To Kill A Mockingbird), in high school (The Great Gatsby, The Catcher In the Rye – which my little sister borrowed five years ago when she had to read it for high school, and which came back to me dog-eared), in college (Life With A Star, A Lesson Before Dying, Tuesdays With Morrie – which came out my junior year and was required reading for a unique seminar class I took as a senior with the assistant dean of academic affairs, who died of a heart attack in his mid-50s, a few years after graduation). It holds the classics I should have read all the way through sometime in between, but didn’t until after I was finished school (The Bell Jar, In Cold Blood, King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet). All these books from my school days that left such impressions on me that I wanted to keep them. It holds biographies and histories, vampire stories and love stories, tragedies and celebrations.

It tells my story.

Every year, when the weather turns cooler, I look forward to curling up with a blanket and a new book. When the weather is warm, I look forward to toting one in my bag to the beach, or sitting with it out on the balcony with a drink. Some nights, I can’t wait to get home and sink into a tub of soothing warmth or a cushion of pillows with a book to erase the day.

And every morning when I wake up, every night when I come home, my bookshelf is there against the wall to remind me of my story.

I am in love. Forever.

(This may or may not be why I’m unmarried.)

(Huh.)

(Anyway.) I am going to begin keeping a list of books on the shelf. It’s at the top of my blog, next to “All the cells.” Every time I finish a book, I’ll add it to the list. If you keep a list, let me know; I’ll check yours when I’m looking for my next affair, my next commitment to a larger romance.

*******

My blog friend k8edid was kind enough to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I love her stuff and I so appreciate that she likes mine enough to honor my writing that way. My mission: tell my readers seven things they don’t know about me, and list more bloggers for them to read. (Technically, what you’re supposed to do is name a list of Versatile Bloggers, but I’m pretty literal and I prefer the less restrictive approach of simply naming a few I’ve discovered and enjoyed since the last time I provided a list.)

Here goes:

Seven Things

1. I had a birthmark on the inside of my leg that ran from just below my knee all the way up. When I was two, my mother tried to scrub it off because she thought it was dirt. But now it’s so faded I’m not even sure it’s there anymore.

Stop thinking about where it was. Geez.

2. I have 20/500 vision without contact lenses or glasses. AKA totally sucky.

3. I learned to read when I was four, and still remember a big yellow paperback book full of stories that had an illustration of Superman on the back page. There was also a hardback book called Star Bright that was full of short stories in black print with font like the one I use in my blog. The short story I remember best from that book was called “Lemonade Rain.” There was an illustration in it of a girl who looked like Sister 1, sticking her tongue out to catch the drops.

4. When I was in second grade, one of my classmates accidentally tripped me on the blacktopped schoolyard and I chipped my front tooth and cut my face just under my nose, so I have a scar that looks like my nose is running and 1/3 of my left front tooth is fake.

5. My favorite subjects in elementary and high school were always English and history. No matter what year.

6. I am half German and half Irish. Or half Irish and half German, depending on which parent reads my description.

7. When I was in middle school, every teacher I had thought I would become a writer. I sort of did… but  not a novelist, like they thought.

And now: Blogs You Should Read (Besides the Ones On My Lovely Blog Roll)

k8edid – A nurse with a heart of gold and a silver tongue.

Prettyfeetpoptoe – I just discovered her, but I think if you like me, you’ll like her. Also she’s British, which is always a bonus. I love me some witty Brits.

Ginger – a single mom fighting fibromyalgia and a wicked case of Decorator’s Bug.

Jamieonline – he’s just such a sweetheart, and he has such enthusiasm and zest for life.

The Bloggess – she’s got a gazillion readers and she doesn’t need you, but if you want to laugh out loud, read her anyway.

Happy reading, all.