I was obsessed. Every free moment I had—on the bus, at work, at night before I went to sleep—I was thoroughly absorbed. I lost myself in a different world and frolicked in the new feelings and wild ideas that came with the constant company of this amazing new companion. My dreams were infused with the details of our affair; I was unable to think of little else, day in, day out. We stuck it out together, through all the twists of fate and odd turns in the road. We puzzled the mysteries together, fought the battles and went side by side on the same journey.
Sadly, inevitably, it ended, as it was meant to from the beginning. Nothing so good lasts forever, but I thought it would last a little longer than it did. I was forced to return the drabness of everyday life. The world created by the bond became lost in the dull fog of reality. I tried to start other relationships—always reluctantly, always hoping against hope that this one would be like the last. But it never lasted long, and I was always disinterested and distracted, longing for what once was. I’m still looking for a suitable replacement. I know there are more options out there, truly there are millions. But how can any of them compare to that one great love affair?
But here I must give myself a reality check. I have felt this way before. If I remember correctly, I was a little skeptical as I delved in. But I have fallen under the spells of many, many others throughout my life. Yes, most recently it was Jonathan Strange. But before that there was Ebenezer Cooke, that gawky poet in Maryland. And of course Owen Meany, short, loud and magnetic. Quick Lamb was the earnest, quiet Australian. Howard Roark, brilliant and stubborn, was captivating—but so was his lover Dominique. Such a rich, brazen and beautiful woman. I never thought I’d be able to live without them both. Then of course the fabulous Switters, CIA agent turned voluntary paraplegic on a mission of lust and faith. Fenno was gay, but that didn’t stop me from loving him. And the talented and luscious Joe Kavalier, artist, lover, soldier, hero, magician—handsome as the day is long and just as honorable. And Mala was as enticing, sexy and fabulous as any woman who walked the earth.
So, I shouldn’t get too dramatic about my latest loss.
There’s always another book on the shelf. As amazing and diverting and brilliant as the 1008 pages of Jonathan Strange & Dr. Norrell were, I have been diverted by such brilliance countless times in the past and will be so again in the future. I am a reader. I read tirelessly and feel quite naked if I’m not lugging around a book, or at the very least, the three most recent issues of The New Yorker. If I find myself with a lack of something to read I feel lost and anxious. Perhaps, in my case, it was the sans-television childhood that made me this way, or it’s just a symptom of writerlyness, but I cannot be without books the way Catherine couldn’t be without Heathcliff. I become very, very attached to the good ones, and the better they are the harder time I have letting go.
It’s a painful thing to finish a good book. There is no sense of accomplishment; I don’t feel the need to add a notch to my bookshelf or go out for a martini to celebrate that I’ve read hundreds of pages of gorgeous, well-wrought prose, with a fascinating plotline and intriguing characters. Instead, I mourn the book. I will randomly open it up to a page and try in vain to relive the sweetness of the moment when I didn’t know what was going to happen next. It seems hopeless that I’ll ever again find a book that thrills me as much as the last one and yet I find them again and again.
There is no shortage of great books in the world. I cannot read them all. And there are certainly many that are not really worth reading. But the good ones are priceless, no matter how abundant they might be.
I’ve just started Atlas Shrugged. I have high hopes. Who is John Galt? I’m sure I’ll like him. And I’m already sure that Dagny Taggart is a total bitch.
ps: The characters mentioned above come from the following books, all worthy reading:
The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth
Cloudstreet, Tim Winton
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, Tom Robbins
A Trip to the Stars, Nicholas Christopher
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
Three Junes, Julia Glass
And other worthies, if you’re interested:
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
Atonement, Ian McEwan
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk
Choke, Palahniuk again
Watership Down (yes the one with the rabbits), Richard Adams
Gone with the Wind (seriously), Margaret Mitchell
And that’s that for Sage’s book club.
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