30 August 2015

Erstelesenendentraurigkeit, and the pleasures of reading slowly.

Is there a word for the sadness you feel when you realize you are almost at the end of a book that you love and you will never be able to read it again for the first time?

I asked that on facebook, and my friends answered "No, but there should be, because that's definitely a thing and you should tell us what you just read because we want to feel it, too."

Normally I am a glutton of all kinds. I eat too much. I drink too fast (water, I mean. Also beer and wine and whatnot, but I limit myself strictly on those so I don't end up doing something stupid.) I binge watch TV shows. And I swallow books whole. I read the first three Harry Potter books in a single weekend, and the rest in one or two marathon sessions each.

I'm also a re-reader. Books that I raced through the first time often get a slower, reread. I dip in and out of them when I have a bit of time. I know how they end, so I'm not in any particular rush to get there and I can better enjoy the ride, watching the author lay out threads and weave them together. There is pleasure in this. I can appreciate the art and notice clues that seem to be placed there especially for the re-reader to find. And over time books become comfortable old friends. I can start Pride and Prejudice or Anne of Green Gables anywhere and know exactly where I am in the story and still want to keep reading.

I do not, in general, read new books a bite at a time. I either race through if it's a book I'm enjoying, or if it's a book that doesn't speak to me I read a bit, give up, come back and start again until I get traction or give up entirely. Usually those are book club books, recommended by women I love and respect and I feel guilty, stupid and boring for not loving the books. (I'm looking at you, Rushdie.)

Bird is far too old for picture books at bedtime, too old, even for the simple chapter books. Left to his own devices he eats books the same way I do. But he's not too old for bedtime stories, because there is no such thing as too old for bedtime stories, so I've been picking out middle grade novels and reading him a chapter or two every night. These are often books that are new to me, too, so we discover them together. Tempting as it is, I never read ahead, so when Bird begs for just one more chapter I usually oblige for my own sake as much as for his, until it is really too late and I am really too tired and we must go to bed for real.

Reading aloud slows me down, and while I might be irresponsible about my own bedtime I'm pretty serious about Bird's, so it takes a few weeks to get through a book. And they are delicious weeks of slowly discovering the next thing, of having to wait to find out what happens next, of looking forward to bedtime, of knowing you'll find out what's behind the door in the old tunnels, but not yet. It's an entirely different way of falling in love with a book, one I don't allow myself to enjoy often enough.

The most recent bedtime book was The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore. It's a completely charming book about magic and science and family and friendship and belonging and growing up, and if you have a child of nine years old or thereabouts I recommend it. It's a book that lends itself to slow reading. The story unfolds over generations, and you need time to digest one bit so that the next bit will make sense. There are things left unsaid. Things that Bird, bright as he is, missed. Things that will be waiting for him when he reads it again in a few years.

The end of the book sneaks up on you, because you're sure there's more to resolve, and because there's a first chapter of another book hiding there in the end, filling out the back of the book with pages you think are going to keep your new book friends with you for a few more pages. I was reading along and suddenly there were only two pages left, and I needed a minute to collect myself, because I had to leave the Castle and its inhabitants without spending nearly as much time as I wanted to in the tunnels and the strange, impossible rooms.

One of my facebook friends noted that if there were a word for the sadness at the end of the book, it would be German, which led B the B, who belongs to Maud, to suggest Erstelesenendentraurigkeit, a completely made up mash-up of a word that the facebook translator helpfully renders as "first reading ends sadness."

Opinions entirely my own. I did not receive remuneration of any kind for this review and this post contains no affiliate links.

03 August 2015

An Hour on the Beach in the Early Morning

There is no quiet at the beach, because the ocean roars at you from across the dunes, says good morning before you can even see it.

I’m not the first person out. I pass a man with a baby strapped to his chest. The baby is watching the ocean. The man walks, eyes front. I wonder if the mom is sleeping in for once, or if he’s always up early, or if the mom is actually another dad instead. Did the baby sleep well last night and wake early? Or did no one sleep well last night and this is a desperate attempt to get someone some sleep.

The dogs are almost certainly not allowed on the beach, but there’s no one out to tell the owner to leave as he throws tennis balls into the ocean. The dogs race out into the surf. The bolder, stronger swimmer goes past the crashing waves, while the more timid one is tossed under wave. They race back with their prizes, tails wagging, ready to go again.

There are fewer joggers than I expected, but more fishermen. Fathers and sons, brothers, men alone. I see chairs and poles and bags of bait, lures flash as the lines are thrown, but no buckets for the catch. The catch is not the point, I suppose. Only when the walk is almost over and I start to wonder why there were no women out fishing do I see a young woman with a pole, out with her father. I almost stop to thank her for coming out, thank him for bringing her, but I don’t need to be the crazy woman on the beach, and they don’t need me to tell them that taking your daughter fishing is awesome.

The old woman, a term I use with deepest respect and admiration, dressed in a beach cover up and a bright floppy hat, stands at the water’s edge, her feet rooted in the sand. Her hands move up and down with the rhythm of her breath and the waves. Just looking at her is surely good for my blood pressure.

At the fence line that marks the beginning of the private beach, I am reminded of the story we were told in elementary school about the Native Americans selling Manhattan to the Europeans for 25 beads.  The Europeans thought they’d put one over on the Native Americans because they’d paid so little. The Native Americans thought they’d put something over on the Europeans because you can’t own the land. I am in full sympathy with the Native Americans at that moment. Who can own the beach?

The sun and the moon are up at the same time, which is one of my favorite things. There’s the vast expanse of interstellar space out there, and we’re just sitting in the middle of it.

A man is settled in a chair in the sand, no fishing pole, no book, just a thermos of coffee (probably, it could be whiskey for all I know.)  He sips his coffee and watches the sun and the waves. He is also good for my blood pressure.

The town is beginning to wake up. There are more walkers and joggers, more fishermen. Two men are setting up canopies by the dunes, preparing shade for a large group that will come later. The dogs are gone, but the three swimmers are still in the water. The man with the baby strapped to his chest is still out walking. He’s turned around, heading back. The baby is asleep.


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