Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Novel Affair

Ever since I can remember, I have had an affinity for books- perusing them, buying them, owning, reading, admiring, sharing, saving, cherishing them, and hopefully one day- writing them. I have always read books- I have my mom to thank for that. She set rules when I was young, regulating almost every hour of every day… The only things she didn’t limit were books- I could own as many books as I liked and read until the wee hours of the morning. My mom tells me that as a little girl, she used to find me in my room, far past my bedtime, fast asleep with my glasses slipping down my nose and a book resting open on my chest. Twenty years later, I still do the same thing- sans the glasses. (Thank you Lasik!).

My mother not only encouraged me to read as a child and teenager, she has continued to do so throughout my life. She furnished me with a “book scholarship” early on and basically said that regardless of how old I get or where I am in the world, she will always pay for my books. This “scholarship” comes in handy when I am strapped for cash and the innate female necessity to shop kicks in. A day in the bookstore, resulting in the purchase of one or two new novels, always holds me over until the next paycheck.

I love bookstores and their multi-colored brimming tables and never-ending shelves of new titles. I love the feeling of being overwhelmed with possibility: which story will I discover next? Which narrative will become my subsequent journey? I love new books- the smell and feel of them. I even love peeling off the bookstore pricing stickers to reveal what the book SHOULD have cost me. I love the first page of a book- reading it is like leaving the runway for takeoff- the beginning of a new adventure. For me, this adventure is pretty much a mystery- I have a policy of never ever reading the backs of books. I don’t read reviews either. I choose books based on recommendations and authors and even once in a rare while, a cover! Books, like life, should not have previews. I know I wouldn’t have appreciated it too much if a “critic” said to me before I grew up: “Your life is a thoroughly provocative and entertaining tale. From the Latin-infused streets of Miami to the bright lights of NY City, and later the adventures as you traverse the globe- your life will be a thing of beauty. Between excitement and hardships, true strength of character as well as weaknesses are revealed. A tremendously interesting ride with peaks and dips for you to look forward to…” Come on people! Let me explore and discover without a guide! I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.

I will always choose literature over cinema. Don’t get me wrong, I like movies. Films are my acquaintances whereas books are my friends, lovers and companions. Unlike movies, books allow us the freedom to employ imagination. They give us an outline of what we should envisage- maybe the color of a shirt or the curve of a face but voices, expressions, settings, and the like are for us to imagine- they are personal. I love knowing that 100 people could read the same book at the very same time and not one of those readers will have had the same experience reading it. Books can be cherished whereas movies dictate the speed at which the stories ebb and flow. Books will never be obsolete- VHS already is and the DVD will be extinct within the next 10 years as well. Lastly, books can accompany us anywhere- on a plane, train, a deserted island. And no, a portable DVD player isn’t on a par- batteries all run out eventually.
Books never malfunction.

I love my books. They are the relics of my own history- I can look at a novel, pull it out of a suitcase and I can picture where I was when I first read it. I can see it sitting in the IKEA bookshelves of my Freshman dorm room or glimpse the top half of it sticking out of the seat cushion of the chair in front of me on a flight to Kuala Lumpur. I take my books with me. I keep them. No matter where I am going; I pack them up and drag them along.
As much as I cherish my books, I deface them. I write in the margins. If something I read provokes a sentiment- I write it down. I underline sentences- full paragraphs. I underline to remember them. I fold the corners of the pages over instead of using bookmarks- my boyfriend cringes at this- I tell him it adds character to these books- it makes them mine. He asks, “whose else would they be?” I write notes on the back pages of books. If you look, you will notice that there are always two or three full blank pages located at the back of the book. Why not make use of them? I read my books in the bath, occasionally getting them wet with a resulting appearance of shrunken and lopsided edges. There is no doubt about it, you can tell once I’ve read a book.

I go through books rather quickly because I have no patience. I must always find out what happens next. The characters, even the antagonists, become my companions- and putting a book down means putting their lives on hold. I can’t do that. I’m always sad when I reach the last page of a book; another ending to another phase- or story. I’ve never been good at goodbyes. On the contrary, it’s rare for me to REALLY love the ending of a book. I know some authors attempt to be poetic and I can appreciate that, but I like to feel like the adventure is all wrapped up by the last page- the suitcases unpacked and photos developed. I have my own adventures to live- I don’t need to wonder what happened to the characters.
Yet in the end, although finishing a novel saddens me- it ultimately means that the time has come to begin a new story- and the possibilities are endless.

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