Novels In & Out
If you are a reader, books are like air – essential, life giving. We breathe in novels like deep gulps of air, sucking the story in allowing yourself to be completely consumed by the narrative.
Just as I don’t consciously think of breathing, I don’t consciously consider reading, I just do it. It’s natural.
I grew up with book breathers. Both my parents sucked in novels like oxygen. Whole books in an afternoon, stacks of books to work through during a vacation. In, in, in. But how they exhaled was unique to them.
My father read detective novels written by male authors. Pulp fiction books with covers featuring beautiful bleeding women sprawled on a hard floor with serious men wearing fedoras looming over the prone body. Once a month Dad gathered me and a big basket filled with paperbacks and we made our pilgrimage to a used bookstore a short drive away.
While he exchanged his books for more of the same. I was free to wander the packed, stacked shelves that towered over me like the imagined streets of Manhattan. I never found anything to read myself, but I loved the smell, the dust, and puzzling over inappropriate book jackets.
My father sucked in his books, then purposefully exhaled them back out into the world.
My mother read detective and mystery novels written by women: Agatha Christie, Rita Mae Brown, Sue Grafton. When I was small, my mother frequented the library – breathing in borrowed air and returning it back out again at a vigorous rate – almost like exercise.
As she grew older, her breathing changed. She continued to suck in books but they weren’t on loan, so she could breath at her own rate – inhaling, but now never fully emptying her lungs. Finished books collected. Paperbacks stacked along the stair rails flooding into the empty children’s rooms. Every room in the house gradually acquired stacks of books as my mother held her breath.
Do I keep books? Yes. I find my book shelves are mostly filled with histories, biographies, poetry and reference books. I keep the novels written by clients, but the mysteries and novels I love to inhale on a Sunday afternoon? Those I exhale fully back into the world. I learned from my father. I keep a list of books read, like keeping an exercise journal: in – out.
It’s breathtakingly sad to witness all the stacks and shelves and drawers of books piled in an otherwise empty bedroom like some kind of purgatory for novels. I itch to box these paperbacks: Ellis Peters, Anne Perry, Joan Hess and restore them into the open shelves of our local Friends of the Library (sale every first Saturday of the month) in order to offer them up to a new reader who is ready to breath in and become a super fan of a forgotten author.
Exhale: we can’t hold it in forever.