The love of my life
If you asked me to name the love of my life, my default, immediate response would be to name a name. Most of us would, if asked that question. We're hard-wired to do so, to measure great loves in human relationships. It's probably the best answer; the most potent relationship we can have may be with another person, one who loves us back. But if I were to think outside the box a little bit when you asked me to name the love of my life, I might have to pause and then say, to your surprise, "Books. Books are the love of my life."
I'm sure you're shaking your head at this point, thinking, "Sarah, books can't be the love of your life. Books aren't people. Plus you said books plural, and the love of your life is singular, so not only are you crazy, but you're not very smart." Maybe it is a little bit goofy, but bear with me now. Books just might be the love of my life. No offense to the people whose names I've uttered so many times in association with great love, because I'm not shortchanging the value and potency of human relationship. I'm simply offering that the relationship I've had the longest and that has brought me some of the most overall joy has been with books.
Ever since I was a tiny kid, I have been completely obsessed with books. Looking at them, holding them, collecting them, lining them up on my shelves, checking them out from the library, writing my own (even making my mom write for me before I knew how), carrying them with me everywhere I went, choosing to spend time with them over other things like, you know, people. As a child, I would rather have read a book than do just about anything else, just about any day of the week, even if the something else was something super exciting. Had you said to seven year old Sarah, "Hey, so we can go to Cedar Point tomorrow, or you can read that whole book," I might have scrunched my face up with indecision, because READING. I preferred books to sports, to animals, to video games, to human beings. Even when I started dating, I spent more hours scribbling in journals about boys than I did actually with boys. I took books with me on road trips, even though I get sick if I read in a car (the great curse of my life), and to sleepovers, and on camping trips and into my treehouse, and I read in bed with a flashlight long after I was supposed to have gone to sleep.
I don't know if I have a favorite genre. Usually, I gravitate toward fiction. Sometimes that can be a romance or a fantasy or a mystery, but in general, I'm a fiction kinda gal, and I mean good fiction. I'm pretty snobby about books. I'm usually not looking for basic escapist entertainment - no Shopaholic or Nicholas Sparks for me, thanks. In fact, I famously broke the binding of The Notebook when I finished it and promptly threw it against the wall as hard as I could, my contempt for the thing eventually costing me a $25 in replacement fee at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library. I like old and new fiction, I like adult contemporary, I like post-modern, I like teen lit, I like all of it as long as it's good and the story sings.
I also love great non-fiction, really well-written books by authors who know how to spin facts into interesting stories. I love learning about people and places unfamiliar to me, reading about moments in time that still have something to teach me. I have a major thing for travel lit, and I can't get enough of authors like Bill Bryson, Jon Krakauer, Mary Roach and David Sedaris. A great non-fiction writer can make me feel like I'm reading fiction while teaching me something I didn't know.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I love poetry. I can read Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets over and over and over without ever growing weary of those gorgeous, heartbreaking words. As a fifth-grader, I was the only person to check out the complete works of William Shakespeare from the elementary school library - not once, but probably seven or eight times, poring over the strange rhymes and falling more in love with every thee and thou I ingested. I had no idea what a lot of it meant, but it felt right. It felt like where I belonged.
Now you might be thinking, "Sure, yes, reading is fun. But books can't love you back." I disagree. I would argue that during the darkest times of my life, books have been a constant source of comfort and solace. Something about returning to the pages of a well-worn book is like returning home...which is why I've owned multiple copies of beloved titles like The Prince of Tides, Charlotte's Web, Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby. Sometimes, going back is like starting over.
If ever there were another possible love of my life that has stood by my side through thick and thin and offered me endless hours of joy and comfort, it still wouldn't be a human, it would be music. But that's another post entirely, and probably the battle between music and literature is one that would have to end in a draw, because I could never choose a winner.
I always wanted to write a book of my own, if not many books of my own, and the only real life dream I've ever had, aside from seeing the world, has been publishing books. Someday, I know that dream is going to come true. But I also knew it would be hard. If you say you want to be a writer, or, God forbid, that you are a writer, the first thing anyone will tell you is how hard it is. Duh. Like I don't know. Like I didn't figure that out when I was about eight years old. I've been to a bookstore. I know how many titles there are, how few of them get read by a mainstream audience, how hard it is to stand out, how tough it is to tell a coherent story over the course of hundreds of pages. It's hard because it's magic, like flying to space or curing a disease. Writing a story is magic, and you have to be a wizard to do it properly. There are a lot of books out there, and even the worst of them are magic in some capacity, because someone made them, slaved away over the words for hours and days and weeks and years to pull a story from their brain and make it into words on a page.
Books can absolutely be the love of your life. They can take you all over the world, and out of this world to worlds you never even dreamed of. They can teach you things, expand your thinking, make you ask questions. Through the written word, you can live multiple lives, be every single kind of person there is to be in this world. You can be friends with people you will never meet, know them intimately. Your entire house - and your mind - can be filled with friends, even in your loneliest hours, and those friends will never, ever die or get tired of you visiting them. They'll always have something to teach you. And like a mother or a spouse, eventually you'll know them so well you have every wrinkle, every crease memorized.
And best of all, you don't just have to read books. You can write them. You can write your own story, tell your own truth. You can make it a secret or share it with the world. You can live as many lives as you can imagine for yourself. You can live forever. All you have to do is open up the pages and write.
So, that said, what's on your reading list this summer? I'm always making lists that are far longer than I can hope to accomplish in any reasonable amount of time, but here's what's at the top of mine at the moment:
- Pack Up the Moon by Rachael Herron
- Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- Paris Letters by Janice Macleod
- The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka