Monday, December 26, 2011

Books as ballast

     Two and a half years ago, when I wasn’t paying close attention, my husband sold our house in Maine and bought one in Virginia in less than a week.
      To clarify, I knew we were thinking of such a move. I knew he was perusing real estate ads on the internet, but for me it was just an eye twinkle; for Gordon it was a ready-to-hatch plan.
      We quit our jobs, tossed half our Maine lives into a dumpster and moved the rest in a U-Haul.  It felt like I had the rug pulled out from under me. In fact, I had.  The rugs unrolled beautifully onto oak floors. The furniture landed and grew comfortable in cozy spaces. I settled, but I’m still on shaky ground.  (Mother Nature ‘s not helping: last summer we felt earth move under our feet as an earthquake’s epicenter was a little more than a stone’s throw away.)
     One way I find my footing is by reaching for and seeking out the things that have given me pleasure: yoga mats, swimming pools, woodland paths, beaches, poetry, books. Some years one predominates; others another, like animals on the Chinese zodiac – only more random and repetitive.  
     2011 was the year of the book. Books have been my ballast. My joy. 
      Books and I go back.  In my mind’s eye I know the shelf where I might find the entire series of animal tales by Thornton W. Burgess in my hometown library – a stately Victorian brick building built in 1900 which no longer houses books. I recall how at 14 or 15 I got caught reading Leon Uris’s Lust for Life under the covers with a flashlight.  How at 16 I stayed home from a school dance so I could finish Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth.  One college summer, when I still believed in tans, I covered my limbs in baby oil and worked through all of Tolkien on a lawn chair. English major in college. Ditto, graduate school.
      So this is an old habit, one I have indulged this year.

      I have not done so much reading since I was in graduate school.  Luxurious full days of reading. I had a lot to catch up on. I began with books passed my way – The Help, Cutting for Stone and moved on to read books  that were making headlines – Freedom,  the Millennium Trilogy, then to recommendations --  Paul Harding’s Tinkers,  Ron Powers’ The Echo Maker (a favorite),  and Generosity (a not-so favorite), Jennifer Egan’s The Keep (another favorite) and A Visit from the Goon Squad.  I hit the library and caught up on all the Michael Connelly mysteries (favorite mystery writer) I missed over the years.  Paul Doiron, who is also editor of Down East Magazine, where my friend Virginia Wright works, has two Maine mysteries (also favorites). Recently I was enchanted by Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and wowed by Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot and quietly moved by Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table. Other writers I read this year include Geraldine Brooks, Jo Nesbo and Ian Rankin. Oh, and a few Patricia Cornwell (no longer a favorite).   The list doesn’t include the not so memorable – because I don’t – remember them.  I no longer carefully read or even finish mediocre books that go blah, blah, blah.


  1. Bravo! I like this, Barbara--you are 'coming out' a bit! I love the part about your early recollections of books, where you could find them, what was going on in your life when you read them--your growing up while reading, reading, reading. I think I just "publicly recommended' you on Google tonight. Never did this before. Wonder what will happen? Keep up the good work! xo

  2. I don't know that I've ever experienced books as ballast. In previous moves, my books have always been thrust at me in an attitude that said, "Geez, make sure you take these with you, I sure don't want them!"

    You have a very interesting taste in books, Barbara. It makes me glad you sometimes visit me over at Basso Profundo. I have some recommendations on mysteries, but they're set in oddball milieus: ancient Rome, Ireland in the 600s AD, England during the Stephen-Matilda civil war (ca. 1140 AD).