Monday, November 7, 2011

Relax. Concentrate. Dispel Every Other Thought. Let the World Around You Fade.*

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn't Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:  
the Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages, the Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success, the Books Dealing With Something You're Working On At The Moment, the Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case, the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer, the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves, the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread and the Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them. 

*    *    *

Between required school reading, books gifted to her, YA novels downloaded to her Kindle, and compilations collected from various booksellers, Lulu read roughly seventy-six books last year. That's at least twice more than I've read during any year.

I'm the main character in Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. You are, too, by the way. You and I, we've peered through the shop window and sauntered among its aisles, following the book-lined trails. Books have mocked and scolded us, and literally, fallen on us in vicious acts of defiance, especially the books (the lonely ones back at home sulking on their shelves) that we, at one time, jump started with great enthusiasm, only to sputter out of gas midway along the track. We'd thought we had more fuel in the reserve.

But we can't read them all. We simply can't. Frustrating, I know. So we choose what fits best and we try to steal time and quiet space with our reads, hoping to lose ourselves in their thin leaves. And often we do. Unfortunately, time is not on our side. We've a myriad of other things to accomplish and daily minutiae with which to keep up (not to mention holding onto jobs to pay for our meals). Even if we read every minute of every day of all the remaining days left in our lives, we wouldn't get to read all the books we'd like to. 

So they mock us.

And that's OK. We've got a life to live after all. We have things we want to do, and learn and share. Lu comes out of hiding every now and then (well, often, actuallyshe's a magician of a reader: relaxes, concentrates, dispels all thought, world fades out entirely), as she did yesterday morning when she appeared in the kitchen announcing that she'd make the family's Sunday dinner, because: 

1) Surprise, surprise! Sunday's 6:00pm dance class had been cancelled; and, 
2) She had read another bookThe Silver Spoon for Childrenand was ready to cook her very first meal.

List in her hand, I took her to the market to collect the items she'd need for baked cod with vegetables. She, with her characteristic twelve-year-old vigor, shagged through the produce, deli and seafood areas, fetched the cod and pancetta and tomatoes and carrots and leeks and lemon, sailed toward check-out (briefly hitting the brakes to grab a warm baguette from the bakery), tossed everything onto the cash-wrap, grabbed my wallet, swiped my debit card and punched in my PIN. 

Back at home she did everything just like the book said. (And I do think it said.) She gathered all equipment and utensils, slid tools of the trade into the pockets of her apron, laid out cutting boards and commenced with the prep work. She pre-heated, washed and peeled, cut and drizzled, wrapped and squeezed, assembled and, finally, popped the overflowing casserole into the oventhe world around her completely faded.

Lu wore a particular glow at dinner last evening. The I-did-it-all-by-myself glow. I know that glow. I bathed in it when I bought and set up the new router last Friday, it was a sparkly I-switched-from-G-to-N-all-by-myself glow. The glow is born of a certain zone known as, you  know it, the let-the-world-around-you-fade zone. (A zone, or focus, that the remarkable Marylinn Kelly wrote of just this Saturday.) In it, you read all the books you've been planning to read for ages (so it seems), finish what you're working on at the moment, and shatter the barricades that keep you from performing a multitude of seemingly impossible tasks

One glow leads to another, too. The I-did-it-all-by-myself glow leads to the wow-I-can-do-this! glow, which is followed by the I-want-to-keep-doing-this glow, which inevitably flows into the I-am-the-master-of-this glow. Tu comprends?

Look at Lu. She's glowing. She read a cookbook and got inspired. In our finite lifetime, you and me, we may never get to read, do, listen or see everything we'd hoped to, but whatever our accomplishment(s), it's worthy in its own right. And if we've done it in that certain and all-to-hard-to-find zone, if we've sat down and really read the book, if we've relaxed, concentrated, dispelled every other thought, and let the world around us fade, we ought to be especially pleased by it. Doubly pleased if it opens us up to new worlds.

(Incidentally, dinner was fabulous.)

* From Chapter One, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.


  1. Absolutely loved this post, and the Calvino's - If on a Winter's Night a Traveler - quote.

    They do beckon to us. We can't read them all...

    Way to go, Lu!

  2. Nice.

    As Emily Dickinson once said, "There is no Frigate like a Book ..."

  3. Loree- I wish I had my daughter's quick reading skills. It's amazing how swiftly she can scan a page. I marvel.

    How I wish I could read them all. Well, Ok, maybe not all, but at least the ones on my short list. ;)

  4. Laoch- Dickinson said that, did she? Well, I wouldn't want to sail the sea without one!

  5. Jayne, I have stacks and stacks of books waiting for my attention...and a kindle and a nook, also well stocked and waiting for me to pick them up. I want to read everyone of them. But...what of writing, and working, and living, surely these are better than a book. Nonsense! The right book has the power to change your life forever, or distract you from the redundancy and mediocrity of present one.

    I think it's amazing how your daughter made dinner. It makes one wonder if we don't underestimate the abilities of our children. Well done Miss Lu!!!

  6. What a gorgeous the idea that books have their own minds....i reckon they titter at us, beckoning with their new book smells, teasing us with the knowledge that we want them but haven't yet opened their crisp new pages as we are still beholden to another...
    certainly is a conundrum and an entire life devoted to reading 24/7 would not allow me to get through a quarter of what i wish to read...oh gawd now im all sad haha..
    triffic post J ;)

  7. I can identify with feeling almost guilty for not reading all those books I should! Congrats to is quite a feat to prepare a whole meal...I do it rarely. :)

  8. 'Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered'

    Quite familiar with this category.

  9. Elizabeth- Do you think she'll cook every weekend?! I shall be encouraging this. ;)

  10. Suze- Yes, a category that beckons often! Well, actually, all of them do, in my case.

    Thanks for dropping by. Nice to see you here. :)

  11. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is a great book. Did you notice that the chapter headings form a story on their own if you read them in sequence?

    Cold As Heaven

  12. Cold - Yes, it's a poem, and the entire thing is marvelous. I love the second person POV, too.

  13. grrreat photo, grreat post!
    love the glow.
    i've noticed glow tends to follow flow (csíkszentmihályi), one of my other favorite states. :)

  14. You've captured her confident look in the warm glow of the kitchen light.
    Your quote has made me realize why I like Goodreads so much! I can put all these books into lists: "Have Read", "Currently Reading", "To Read".
    I will never get to them all, but I can surely list them and somehow they become mine.

  15. id- Sure does! Flow... another one of those zones. That state of being fully involved and immersed. I wish I could harness that kind of immersion more frequently. It's wonderful when you're in the thick of it, and also, when you emerge... not fully remembering where you've been but immensely pleased by how much you've accomplished while there.

    Ah--I need more flow! ;)

  16. Leonora- Great point! I think, though, Good Reads will have to add a few more categories to the list! I have a GR account but haven't been there in a while, and certainly, have not organized lists there. So much to do... more to add to the list... ;)

  17. Jayne, a truly wonderful post! The Calvino is superb, and all the connecting tendrils you made in your lovely story of your daughter discovering 'glow' and her keen understanding that though this is her first brush with it, it won't be her last--sublime. Thank you.

  18. I love the glow! And I have just started a book I've been planning to read for ages. I knew there would be a right time, and it is now.

  19. Okay, I'm stuck on relax and concentrate. :)

    Wonderful post!!!
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  20. Melissa- Thank you so much. Darling Lulu made sugar cookies last night! I'm liking this new hobby of hers. (I must give big kudos to the Silver Spoon Cookbook--it lays everything out quite nicely for the kids.)

    As Feynman would say, Oh, the pleasure of finding things out!

  21. Kathleen- Terrific news! Very, very exciting. You go girl--long may you glow. ;)
    (And be sure to tell us more about it when you're ready!)

  22. Jules- Ha! Join the club. So difficult for many of us to get beyond the relax and concentrate. I rarely do, but when it happens, it's pure, well, glow!

    (I need to keep that zone on my GPS.)