One More Thing I’ve Been Reading

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With enough books to choose from, you’d think I would have settled on something more interesting. 

I grew up in a family of readers, and it’s rare when I’m not in the middle of at least one book even though it’s more likely that I have three or four going at once. Some books are compelling, some I read for reference, and a few I savor for long periods of time, such as Jessica Kerwin Jenkins’s Encyclopedia of the Exquisite or the collected stories of Flannery O’Connor and Dorothy Parker. Such books bring me back often without tiring of them.

When preparing to move to the woods four years ago, I parted with a number of books that I finally realized that I could live without. I’ve always found it difficult to part with any books, but at one point I was acquiring more than my available storage space allowed. I also decided that the library should become my first source for new reading material. Borrow the book, and if I found I couldn’t live without it, I’d buy it later. There are dozens of books that I own, which I wished I’d borrowed first. They’re good books, but I probably won’t re-read them for many years, if ever.

Among the books I’ve kept are three that I’ve never read in over 30 years of lugging them about. They were gifts that bear special inscriptions that remind me of the giver. The books are first editions, and I never like to part with a first edition of anything lest books become collectible again one day and the sale of one of these tomes provides the means of retiring to the French Riviera.

On three previous occasions I’ve pulled out the first book of this series. Chapter one begins on page seven, but I’ve never made it past page ten. It seems that the archdeacon’s meandering about the graveyard whilst reciting Robert Blair’s The Grave made me dead tired. I’m currently on the waiting list for approximately six books at the library, and I’ve finished with my summer reading list. My only choice was to peruse my shelves for something interesting. I came across this book once again. I sighed heavily and re-read the jacket. Perhaps I was finally mature enough to understand the subject matter even though I couldn’t imagine what I have now that I didn’t have seven years ago on my last attempt.

I’m a great fan of E. F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia novels. Within those pages, there are dozens of village intrigues centered around two formidable women and their friends. I can also be amused for hours at a time with Agatha Christie’s murderers and the locals trying to figure out whodunit. Since the plot of this novel in question centers on English village life of a certain period, I decided to give it one more chance.

It was best to begin reading when I was fully alert rather than wait until bedtime when the novel had usually affected me like a dose of Midazolam. Adequately caffeinated, I opened to page seven and began reading. The next thing I knew, the book was on the floor and I was achy from having slumped over for a few minutes. Is the book’s page 11 coated in an opiate that my skin keeps absorbing? Why else would this novel induce sleep at the very same point?

I’m a determined person who will see a great number of things through to the end even when a book’s plot is nothing but an old maid darning a curate’s sock while his wife ponders whether to serve beetroot or potato for the cold Sunday supper. I kid you not, and this is coming from someone who has spent many hours delighted by chapters having little more going for them than whether or not some bridge novice inadvertently finessed an ace of out of a veteran opponent who bid no trumps, which eventually led to a grand slam and a war of words.

Three weeks of fortitude, and I’ve made it to page 128. The church organist’s wife is taking the curative waters somewhere on the continent while he remains behind rehearsing the choristers, and the harvest festival bring-and-buy was a success. One of the village’s yarn shops has stocked enough wool for all the single ladies to knit scarves for the clergy’s Christmas gifts, and the lead spinster’s new cook is working out nicely.

I’ve given some thought to this book. The prose is rather nice, but the chapters are less interesting than a fifth-grader’s journal. The characters don’t do much except quote literature and silently worry about what the other characters are silently worrying about.

As with all novels set within English villages, someone is eventually coming for tea. I don’t mind reading a page about how the scones were burned and the marmalade was disastrously runny, but something is going to have to amuse me, touch me, or frighten the hell out of me to prevent my hurling this book against the fireplace. By page 128, the mysterious new cook should’ve begun poisoning the spinster or the archdeacon should’ve run barefoot into the High Street on Sunday morning before Divine Service. As it stands, they’ll all die of boredom before Evensong, and I won’t be far behind.

The best thing about this book is that I’ve been falling asleep effortlessly for a change. Not once have I glanced at the clock to realize I should’ve been asleep two hours ago. You may ask why I continue to stick with this bleak book. Well, I’m number three in the queue for next available library book, and #95 for the new Margaret Atwood. That said, I have a feeling that even if a new library book shows up tomorrow, there is a part of me that wants to reach the end. How else will I find out that the shepherd’s pie was burnt to a crisp and they all had to eat cold pigeon sandwiches for New Year’s dinner?

© 2019 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Have I Forgotten Something?

I’m one of those readers who’s yet to get a Kindle or a Nook. Like most of us who’ve avoided getting one, I say it’s because I like the tactile experience of holding a book and turning pages, but I have a few other reasons, which include collecting older editions, finding out-of-print books that are not available electronically, and the biggest reason of all: if an airline tells you to turn off your gadgets, I can keep reading and maintain the barrier with strangers on a plane during takeoff and landing.

The truth of the matter is that I’m mistrustful of “The Cloud” and take comfort that when it dissipates or electricity vanishes because of some catastrophe, I, like Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone episode, will be left alone with my books as long as my glasses don’t break.

Some people I know have ceased to buy books in any form, and they rely on the library or borrowing. I love the library and use it for checking out books by authors whose work I don’t know or for deciding if I want to buy a book that’s been recommended to me. I’ve rarely borrowed books from friends, and please don’t ask to borrow from me because I no longer lend. Every book or video that’s left my possession has never come back to me in the same condition, and most have never returned at all. I would let you pet sit or keep my kids (if I had any) for weeks at a time, but not my books.

Someone asked me why I wanted to hold onto all of these books, and while I’ve actually donated about 100 to the local library in the past year to help with their continuing fund-raiser, I keep the ones I want because I like to refer to them for reference or even re-read them from time to time. To be honest, I’m saving up for my old age in case I’m ever homebound. I’ll be able to escape into countless worlds from whatever dreary existence befalls me.

A few of the books that make me happy.

A few of the books that make me happy.

“But how can you get any enjoyment from something you’ve read before?” asked my friend. I’ve recently come to realize the answer to that: I don’t remember. A few weeks ago, I was moving some books around and a jacket cover in a dull gold with black lettering popped out. I remembered reading the book within a week or two of its publication, and I opened it to find that I’d purchased a first edition in 2001. I remembered exactly what was going on in my life at the time, and I recalled the plot line even if I couldn’t remember the characters’ names.

I was thrown by some of the plot points mentioned on the inside of the jacket, but I remembered enough to know that I’d enjoyed it. Since the book I’d placed on hold at the library had not yet come back, I decided to take the book with me on my upcoming trip. I read about 30 pages the first night, and it all seemed familiar. By page 60, things were not exactly as I’d remembered, but by page 175 I would swear that I’d never read this book before in my entire life.

One character that I’d completely forgotten was taking over the story, and another who seemed vaguely familiar as an incidental character that I thought had died, ended up surviving to the end with some woman that I remembered having been dropped around chapter three the first time I read it. This time, I thought the book could’ve ended 200 pages earlier, but I rather enjoyed all the plot twists and turns in spite of the fact that there were at least three and probably four nice endings if only the author could’ve forced himself to stop typing.

I put the book away when I got home, and though part of me feared the early onset of dementia, or worse—Alzheimer’s, I’ve convinced myself that I read that book at a time when I was reading several large volumes, so forgetting entire sections was only reasonable. If it is dementia, then how fortunate that I can be satisfied with my library as it is. I can simply re-read books every few years and they’ll all seem perfectly new.

Books that I recommend buying for reading and re-reading. They will bring readers years of enjoyment.

Books that I recommend buying for reading and re-reading. They will bring readers years of enjoyment.

There are a few in my family who are vigilant for signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. We’ve experienced this with our loved ones, and every time we walk into a room and forget why we came in, we check ourselves as though we may have begun that downward spiral.

The awareness of memory loss has to be the most terrifying part. My grandmother, until her final years, had a great long-term memory, and you could sit with her and she’d tell you all about her dating life in the 1920s, her elopement with my grandfather and various funny incidents from childhood. She would speak with me, having forgotten how we were related, so she was free to spill the details she’d always kept so guarded.

Her short-term memory had started to go at least 20 years before her death, and after approximately five years of denial at the beginning, she had to admit that she was not the self-assured woman that she had once been. To keep herself on track, she labeled photographs; not on the back, but on the front. You’d see “Grace, Me, Mama” scrawled beneath faces so that she didn’t have to turn them over to figure out who they were. Honestly, if she’d had to turn them over, she might’ve forgotten what she was looking for before she turned the photo back around.

She explained to me once that she kept a calendar, and she marked half of an X across the day when she got up every morning, and on her way to bed, she marked the other half. That way she knew what day she was on. I asked her what happened if she second-guessed herself. “If you’re not careful, you’ll be on next Tuesday a week before the rest of us.”

I had to make a joke because the truth of her memory loss was too painful to bear without humor. Besides, if my remark had hurt her feelings, she was at the point that she forgot it in about an hour never to think of it again.

There came a point when the memory loss was so advanced that she forgot that she forgot, if that makes any sense. She had settled into an existence where she no longer feared her memory loss or worried that someone would discover her. She believed that she was still doing the same things that she’d always done every day; things, which she had been doing in one form or another for over 80 years.

If you brought her fresh garden produce for lunch, she would tell you how she’d grown it. If you baked bread, she’d tell you how she had always baked her own bread and had never bought it. When I would go for lunch on Fridays, I would take out her garbage. I would go out the back door, but come back in through the front. It only took a couple of minutes at that stage to forget I’d been there. I would burst through the door with the excitement of just arriving, and she would be excited to have a visitor once more. I never bothered to correct her. She wouldn’t have remembered, and why ruin a purely joyous moment?

Forgetting that she forgot things was probably a blissful stage, as she no longer worried about anything. Eventually she stopped wondering where her car was, what bills needed to be paid, what letters she’d not yet responded to, and whether or not she needed to drop off food for a bereaved family.

On her 90th birthday, it was a stormy day. I was the first visitor to arrive, and she was holding a stack of birthday cards that one of the nurses had brought to her earlier in the afternoon. We started going through them, and once we made it to the end and the rest of the family had still not arrived, she started going through the stack a second time as if she’d never seen them. I was fascinated by the fact that she started on the third round of opening cards, and all the sentiments and best wishes seemed brand new to her.

If she’d been inclined to read at that point, she might’ve only needed a single book for the rest of her life. Indeed, she might’ve only needed a single newspaper, which wouldn’t have to be replaced until it had become completely unreadable due to wear and tear.

Aging can be a hellish experience, and I’m doing everything I can to maintain my physical abilities and my mental faculties. However, genetics plays a role and if I do end up forgetting the short term, may I recall and tell about the early days with fervor. Also, let me quickly get to the place where I forget that I forget.

© 2015 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”