This is the best book I’ve read, since the last best book I read, and before the next best book I will read, eventually. With crappy books in between.
The fog outside is what a lazy writer would call a blanket. I’m not lazy, I just haven’t had enough coffee, and the blanket of fog is stopping the sun from coming in, so my pores don’t know it’s time to get up. 6 minutes past time, actually. We are on the second pot, from the coffee maker that is precisely 4 steps from his side of the bed. He is the kind of guy that makes coffee and brings it to me. We are both propped up in bed, reading, which is why, when we’re not in it, there are 14 pillows on our bed. And when we are in it, there are 10 pillows on the floor. Unless we’re reading. (Which, let’s be honest, as often as not means he’s reading and I’m fucking around on my computer.)
I put my book down and declare, as I often do, “I do not like this book. Not one bit.” And then I let out an exasperated, or more like deflated, sigh. The problem right now, however, is greater than usual, because I so ridiculously loved the last book that I read. 30 pages into it I was already dreading that it would come to an end. And that’s how I read. With the great passion of someone who loves to read so much that reading something I don’t love just tears me up, and I’d rather fuck around on the computer than risk tainting the high of a perfect book.
He is the opposite. He will start and finish a book in a day. The Lorax would hate him, though dead poets everywhere would declare him their patron saint. A lazy writer, or previously deemed under-caffeinated writer, would say that it is the thing he loves most in the world. That if he had his way he’d do nothing but read, work out and fuck. With the working out and fucking reserved for when he needed to take a break from reading. That, of course, is not true. He’d also play with our daughters, eat, play, watch football, listen to me ramble about the shit that confuses me – which is almost everything – until I talk myself back to the start of the circle and thank him for helping me figure it out even though all he did was listen to the overlapping arcs of my contradictory lines of thought waiting for me to talk myself through it. Which only he can do, and it is very important to me. But still, there is no hyperbolic way to say how much he loves books.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “When you pulled it off the shelf, I thought, ‘ well, that’s not gonna work,’ but I didn’t say anything.” Why would he? He always lets me figure shit out for myself. And also, he knows he doesn’t really know, just strongly supposes.
He was with me through A Brilliant Novel In The Works by Yuvi Zalkow. He was in the hotel room with me, in the rain, on a romantic getaway, when I read the book instead of doing what I would usually do, which is unbutton something on one of us to, well, fuck. He was with me when I kept showing him, with dread, how close I was to the end, and when I was laughing outloud, and interrupting whatever sentence he was reading so that I could read him a sentence I had just read that was, surely, better. When I finished, and he asked what I was going to read next, I told him it was simply too soon to take up with another book.
I think of them like that. Like lovers. (I think of everything like that.)
He assures me there are other great books. I assure him that there are not. And I don’t want to risk it. It would be like washing down a Filet Mignon with a Big Mac. So I fuck around on my computer. Thank gawd Hurricane Sandy provided semi-legitimate justifications for spending all day on Facebook. That, and a need to try to make croissants from scratch.
But in here, somewhere, is how loved I am. He knew, when I pulled Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad off the shelf that I was going to hate it. Or at least not like it. And probably give up and not bother. And it doesn’t bother him. (He would read it. He did. He didn’t really like it either, though he got into it about half way through, which is something I would not bother to do. But he finished it, regardless. It was, after all, a book.)
“I hate it when writers do this shit,” I tell him. “It’s like she’s trying to fucking trick me. Like it’s so fucking clever to confuse the reader, give them no way to know where they are or who they’re reading about.” It’s not clever. It’s annoying as hell. I’m all for non-linear, but not in that pretentious way where you just have to trust some writer you haven’t even been to first base with to hit one out of the park for you. She’s been doing this shit since the first page. If Oprah were an actual book-critic, she’d point out that books SHOW you who they are, they don’t tell you, and you should believe them. And it’s not like I have any reason to trust this writer. Her sentences are all overly-crafted, you can hear the straining. The stroke of self-anointed genius when she realizes that when the characters are younger, she can describe their interactions (in the first person) by saying “and I was all like, blah blah bah,” and “then she was all like, blah blah blah,” “…and then I go blah blah bah,” “and then she goes blah blah blah.” Clever. Clever like a sledgehammer. And besides, I am all like, “who the fuck is this new character, and why are we all like, oh my god, so totally different, and maybe this is like a totally different decade, but I don’t know.” Gag me with a spoon.
A Brilliant Novel In The Works did a lot of that too, granted. But it was different. It was different because it was genuine. It was trying to communicate with me, it just couldn’t, because it couldn’t. It didn’t know how to communicate, and so we stumbled around together, the book and I, trying to come to agreement about what we could do. It needed me to help it, not be impressed with it. It trusted me enough to not be polished, to have holes in its underwear and stutter a bit, sometimes drunk. And it did it effortlessly. And it was hysterical, without trying.
And those sentences, the ones that sneak into cracks you didn’t know you had to touch spots in you that you didn’t think anyone else knew you had. Without trying.
I am a writer too. Not like them. But enough to know that nothing is actually effortless, but that when you are faking it, people can see right through it. Maybe not the Pulitzer Prize committee, granted. But the people who really matter. The ones you want to have relationships with. Someone will always fall for the name-brands and Barbie body, but…..
But mostly, in this moment of accepting that I don’t love this book, I feel loved. He knew I wouldn’t like it. He knew it would be a hard reentry for me.
And I also love how different we are. He reads like a junkie. (This is how he does most things that he does. All in, baby, all in.) I read like a skeptical connoisseur. Only true love. There are times when I think I will give up on finding new books altogether and just re-read, over and over, the books that I already know I love. Can you read A Winters Tale too many times? I don’t think so. Hell, I could spend the rest of my life re-reading everything Reynolds Price ever wrote. A Chronology of Water will always be a perfect palate cleanser. There are others. I keep all my books. (He gets rid of them as soon as he’s finished.) Years later, I will remember a sentence and go back to the page that it was on, almost without having to try to find it, and re-read it. I will have remembered where on the page it was, and where in the book the page was, and where on the shelf the book is (even though they are not in any order.) I will find the sentence (which I have memorized, so there’s really no reason to look at it anyway, except to validate that it is there, it is real, it did happen.) (Yes, like photos of me and an ancient lover, lover from my own ancient history, atop the acropolis.)
Really, everything is like sex to me. And the love in which great sex happens. There are people who will fuck just to fuck. I’ve never been one of them. If you don’t look at me in a way that ignites it, there is no chance. And then there are a series of little signs I look for, as to whether you can fuck me how I like to be fucked. And many more signs that you can’t and aren’t worth my time. And when I’ve exhausted a tryst and I know it’s time to move on, I won’t fill space with mediocre sex. Rather, I’ll fuck around on my computer, or at the gym, or learn a new hobby, rather than risk tainting the memory of perfect sex with mediocre fucking.
So too with books. It’s just how I am. It’s the opposite of how he is.
We are amazing together. That’s what I know, more than anything. This man who brings me coffee in bed, and knows what books I’ll like and not like (gawd knows, he’s read them all. I am sure he has read all the books, and am afraid that new books won’t crop up fast enough for him. I may have to get serious about writing one for him. That way, he can be reading and I can be fucking around on my computer, and we’ll both get what we need.) I am willing to believe that there is another perfect read out there for me. (I asked the author of the last book I loved what I should read next, and it arrives from Amazon tomorrow, I think I’ll just wait.) But there is not a more perfect man for me. I can return to every spot we’ve explored together, on our bodies, in the city, on the planet, in music, in food, and find what I need. Over and over and over again.
And now that this pot of coffee is empty, (he has refilled my cup, of course,) I can go see what the day has in store. It’s hard to see, because the fog has not lifted outside. The lake is barely visible. But I am no longer scarred by, or scared of, the mediocre words I read this morning. There will be other perfect books.