“My sister is in labor. We need some eyeshadow.” was the line that saved the book for me. I’m talking about If You Knew Suzy, the memoir that was selected for my new book club. I had a love/hate relationship with that book in the beginning, and towards the middle, more of a lukewarm like/dislike feeling about it. But the author, Katherine Rosman, almost sucked me in at the end. Considering the central story, (the recollections of a woman who is losing her mother to cancer, and eventually does lose her, while expecting her own first child), well, the subject matter couldn’t have been more poignant to yours truly. I was initially shocked that I was able to keep turning the pages without weeping uncontrollably. Actually, after suggesting the book, my dear friend Anne, looked at me abashed and said, “Oh, this probably isn’t a good one for you to read. I’m so sorry, let’s choose something else.” But I, feeling brave - and hating to miss out on a challenge - said I’d read it. And I did. And I didn’t cry once. Remarkable. The fact that the book didn’t pull too hard at my heartstrings was initially what invoked that “love” (or, maybe, grateful) response, but as I got further along, I couldn’t help but feel more angry towards it (if in a sort of adolescent way). At times I was pissed because this woman, a woman who went through an ordeal almost identical to my own, thought her mother was more worthy of a memoir than mine (yes, I realize the author has no idea who I am and never thought about including my mom in her book). At other times, I disliked it because I couldn’t stand Rosman’s mother, the woman who was idolized in the book itself. But most of the time I felt detached, a little bored, by the details. I felt as if the author was driven to chronicle all the minute details of each and every important event in her mom’s life, even to her own annoyance. Like she was ticking off the items on her list of must-have facts about mom so as to hurry up and get to the good stuff. But, in the end, there wasn’t much time left for the good stuff, so It was just a compilation of facts. And I use the term “facts” loosely because, although the author hammered out details in a non-nonsense sort of way most of the time, she clearly adored her mother and put her on a pedestal, thereby making more of certain events than they seemed to warrant. Funny that the author chose this reporter-type approach to the memoir she authored as Rosman herself talked about her love of narrative at one point in the book, at least in reference to sports. She remarked that the backstory of a competitor was the most compelling reason to watch a sporting event. And I feel the same way (Picture the announcer during the Olympic games detailing so-and-so’s triumph over poverty, then camera zooms in on her cancer-survivor parent in the stands, just as she’s poised to run in the finals and win her first gold medal). I love a good story too. I’m empathetic to a fault and find nothing more compelling than a good underdog-gets-his-day tale. That’s probably why I love reading fiction, novels in particular, and find myself skimming the headlines of the newspaper out of obligation and only reading the full story when I get to the Lifestyle section. It’s hard for me to feel immersed in a report that doesn’t directly relate to me or someone I know - unless I have a good human interest story to go along with it. And that’s probably the biggest reason why I didn’t really like Katherine Rosman’s book. She wrote about something deeply personal and life-changing from a reporter’s perspective and I, as a reader, felt too detached to really care about the persons involved, to even be sad about the whole thing - until the very end, when Rosman let us into her own life.
Soon after starting our little four-person book club, my good friend Sheryl remarked, “I forgot how much I love reading,” and then proceeded to devour about five bestsellers in as many days. I was impressed! And, so inspired, I too started reading more frequently again (once my Tivo ran out of Grey’s Anatomy and Lost episodes). I don’t think I ever forgot how much I loved reading; I just didn’t make the time for it. It’s kind of a tricky thing, being a reader. It’s such a solitary activity. I get so completely swept away in fiction that the world around me disappears. And when the kids are around that’s not a good thing: I’m either a careless reader or a negligent parent. After the kids go to bed, it seems sort of selfish getting wrapped up in a book. Not that watching Modern Family makes for terribly enriching couple time, but we both need our wind down time and that at least calls for a shared experience - belly laughs, knowing looks. But reading, well, I feel sort of guilty tuning out the hubby so completely. I think I’ve found the recipe for togetherness and reading, though. Shawn turns out the Twins, and I curl up next to him with a book. It works. And it’s nice, reading again, getting lost in another world. Every since I learned to read, I devoured books every free moment I had. I feel like I remember the moment (and it truly seemed like a moment, or a matter of days, not months), going from sounding out c-a-t spells cat to Romana Quimby: Age Eight. I was that kid, up in her room, hiding under her covers with a flash light trying to read as late as I could, hoping mom and dad wouldn’t bust me so long after bedtime. Curled up on my bed on rainy Saturdays, even in my tween years, reading a book cover-to-cover if left alone long enough (thank God my mom never knew what V.C. Andrews was all about!) And I come by my love for reading naturally. My dad’s mom is the big reader in the family, and always wants everyone to know it. But it’s my grandmother’s, and my great-grandmother’s, passion for reading that are truly remarkable to me. My grandmother, Nana, always says, “You’re never lonely if you have a good book.” And since she lost her husband, her childhood love, and her only child, my fifty-year old vibrant and beautiful mother, in the same year, that’s a woman who knows lonely! Her mom, my “Mammie,” a woman from rural Tennessee who probably never exceeded an eighth-grade education, would always start a second book before she was able to finish the first, because she hated that empty feeling she’d get when a book ended.
So I know about loving reading. What I did forget, though, was how much I missed talking about books. I literally miss writing book reports and essays, and you, my blog followers (if there are any of you left after my recent hiatus), may have to be the unwilling readers of such reports if that feeling doesn’t start to wane. Even more so, (probably since back in college I majored in English Literature), I miss the deep discussions that we’d have every class period after concluding a book. To be able to share one’s own thoughts and feelings about a particularly moving reading experience (like I had when reading Life of Pi, our last book club choice), is a wonderful feeling. Doing so in blog format, to be uninterrupted in one’s soliloquy on the profound double-meaning of Pi’s adventures and what the author may have been saying about the very nature of human existence, is quite frankly, a tantalizing thought for someone as strange as I. Then again, let me tell you what’s even better: being able to share those brilliant thoughts with three fantastic women who have their own, (arguably more thought-provoking) takes on said novel. Wow! I really see what this book club business is all about, when taken seriously. It’s like college all over again but better: we get to be our own professors, choose all the assignments, don’t have to pay tuition, and get to drink lots of wine during class. Why didn’t I do this before? Inner Book Worm, wake up! Since we are days away from packing away the last few pieces of furniture on the main floor of our house, including our last functioning TV (due to the house project, not bankruptcy! Thank God, I was making that sound awfully dire for a sec), I guess the timing couldn’t be better.