Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quasi-Socially Experiencing Books, Beyond the Pages

When I'm reading books, I enjoy checking out what other readers have posted or video-blogged about the titles I read -- I do so either while I'm still in the process of reading each book, or shortly after finishing it, so that the content is still fresh in my mind. This is my quasi-social way to more fully experience the book beyond its pages and past my own personal perception, which can be only so broad, as it comes to me through those unique mental filters we all carry.

I would rather share and communicate primarily through a book club, but the reality is that there don't seem to be any in my community (Columbia, Maryland), and although there are probably many in the Washington DC area, life's errands, appointments and the commute keep me too busy to drive in grueling evening traffic to attend these meetings.

Frankly, I just don't have the motivation anymore. Since I moved here 14 months ago, I've become someone who looks forward to returning to the comforts of home each day. I had a brief few months of enjoying my newbie urbanite status, when I would energetically linger in the city to try out different restaurants or attend concerts at places like the 930 Club (caught a Blue October concert there), GW Lisner Auditorium (saw Madeline Peyroux perform there) and the DAR Constitution Hall (Loreena McKennitt concert). I would wait around in the city and share a beer and appetizers with friends at Sine Irish Pub in the Post Pentagon Row area. That was fun, but gradually, I came to see that because I didn't live in nearby Virginia, trying to have a social life in Arlington or DC was a lot more of a challenge than I'd originally imagined; gradually, I let it all slough off, and stopped trying to be the Superwoman of lunch and dinner dates. Now I'm again the acutely incurable bibliophile I was as a teen, relishing each day's lengthy train ride to the end of the line, where my car awaits me for the last leg of my journey.

I feel that my move to Washington DC was a life-changing one. Yes, on one hand, it was very good for me -- opening me up to a new career opportunity in Virginia, bringing me from out of the desolation of the West, to where I would soon meet my special guy, Tim. It also exposed me to much more culture than my previous residence in Casper, Wyoming. However, it also feels like it's daily eating away a chunk of my life. I find myself wasting hours sitting in gridlock on the Beltway, and it's at those times that I wonder what I've truly gained.

On a positive note, moving to this area did bring back my enthusiasm for constant reading. I choose to turn those 7-1/2 hours on the Metro each week into time for catching up on my ever-growing reading list. Added to the time I set aside on some mornings to read, and the occasional bedtime literary session, I cover a lot of pages these days.

I used to bemoan that there was never time to read, and that I could never finish a book. I used to own somewhere between a thousand and 1,500 books, causing the shelves in my tiny apartment to bulge from overcrowding. Sadly, this was the same collection I had to abandon for my move to the District. Back then, I would lose interest quickly and be itching to move on to the next novel before I was halfway through the current one. But now, I immerse myself in one (as long as it's not boring to the point of inciting narcolepsy), and I stick with it, contemplating what it has to say to me, when I'm not engaged in its dialogue.

We can learn a lot from books, and I'm not talking about the academic varieties.

I believe we pick up books at the right times for the right reasons. Some, purely because we are looking for an entertaining literary jaunt, and others because we need to "hear" them at certain points in our lives. For me, Eat, Pray, Love is one of those special books. Like the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, I am 35. I too have been divorced (twice...yikes) and suffered raging heartache countless times. I also share many of the same open-minded views and curiosity about my spirituality. Parts of the book are like readings from my own mind, and whenever I come across anything that really "speaks" to me, I underline, highlight or make ample notes in the margins; or I fold a page over for later perusing.

I really use all of my senses when I read. I buy mostly paperbacks, because I feel that those written printed gems are meant for us to use -- not just to look pretty, to decorate our shelves and impress others with our collection of data -- but for us to encounter the energy of their authors through our five senses (sense of taste, meaning only in the indirect sense of cookbooks or culinary travel guides, of course).

Literature is my constant companion, always with me, wherever I go. Not to mention, books make great conversational pieces for meeting likeminded readers, at least when we take the time to remove our noses from between the books' covers once in a while.

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