I'm really looking forward to our book club discussion on 10/22 with DeLaune Michel about her novel The Safety of Secrets. As we're all reading the novel, I thought you might enjoy this essay by Michel about where she'd rather be -- a place I think we'd all like to be as well -- with a book...
I'll never forget an afternoon years ago when I really just needed a break. I can't recall what was happening, or what wasn't happening for that matter. Maybe he hadn't called again, or we had had another earthquake again or I simply had had to drive all the way from Santa Monica to Hollywood without anything decent on the radio. But whatever it was, I wanted to get away without any reminder of my life in sight. So, I did what I learned to do when I was very young; I got a book.
And I actually do remember the book that I bought, it was a Michael Connelly mystery that had just come out. I grabbed a slice of pizza, drove home, dove on my couch, and disappeared into page one. I was gone. Gone, but fully alive in a world where problems get resolved – or at least become acceptable somehow - in 300 or so pages. I started late in the afternoon, and didn't resurface until two in the morning when I turned the last page, and headed to bed – yes, this was pre-children! I had been somewhere else. I had been living someone else. I had left everything that wasn't right or fixable or was out of my control, and had entered a universe that was more orderly than this one. And by doing so, I was able to see once again the beauty in the chaos of this one.
It helps to get away. And don't get me wrong, I'm happy in my life, but I'm happy in it because I get some distance from it, get to reframe the issues and understand the relationships because they get reflected back to me in characters that I thought I'd never relate to, then suddenly realize that I have done exactly the same thing. Or could.
I have not been able to retreat to the couch for a late-afternoon-into-the-wee-hours reading session since my first son was born over four years ago, but I still grab my versions of it. As much as I love my husband, I look forward to the few times a year that he has to leave town. On the night he is gone, I make sure that my sons are fed, bathed, and in bed by their 7:30 bedtime. I make my favorite dinner (a big bowl of popcorn!), and I hit the couch with a new book. Okay, who are we kidding? This is heaven. On normal evenings, I have my own small version of this – sans popcorn! – for an hour or so before bed.
A book is also the private phone call I get to have with the writer right inside my head. I have a few female friends whom I couldn't live without talking to on an almost daily basis, but once I get through the witching hour of dinner, bath and bed that transforms my children from all the joys and despair and needs of the day into silent sleeping souls, I don't feel much like engaging in a conversation. But with a book, I can have dialogue in wonderful, peaceful quiet.
Eudora Welty once said that the novel is the most intimate of art forms. I believe that. When I read, I can hear the writer's words in my own voice, yet shaped and transformed through my life. I think it is the art form that is most collaborative between the person who created it and the person who experiences it. There is that old saw that if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, I think the reader gives the book its sound. It isn't truly alive and real until it is read. And the amazing thing, is that it makes me real and alive in a new way, too.
So, as much as I adore the sun, the sand, the sky, and the surf, if I had to choose only one place to escape – like the man or woman on a desert isle! – I would always choose a book.