Friday, October 16, 2009
Reading the Right Book at the Right Time
I've been reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter since May. Yes, that's right. I have been reading this book in starts and stops for almost five months. It's been a savoring technique, I suppose. I don't even remember what initially drove me to seek it out, but right after my twentieth birthday, I dragged a friend with me to Ravenswood Used Books, (my favorite of its kind in Chicago), to find it. We did, with some help, and I've been slowly making my way through it ever since. It's too perfect-- one of those situations where you've found the right book at the right time.
One of the reasons I wanted to read it initially was that Carson McCullers got it published when she was just 23 years old. After turning twenty, I realized the clock was kind of ticking on the whole "young genius" potential. If I write something great at 70, which is a perfectly admirable thing to do, I'll be proud, but it's not quite the same as McCullers' early masterpiece.
Because I bought it used, I have no qualms about dog-earing and scribbling in the margins, which has always been my favorite way to read a book. Many bibliophile friends (some of whom read this blog and will probably run away screaming from this entry) consider it desecration, but I don't feel like I've really read or really own a book until I can see myself, quite literally, in its pages. This beat-up, stained, and tattooed copy of Lonely Hunter is a time capsule now, and I'll hang on to it for a long time. Of course I'll want to remember which parts felt resonant now. That says a lot more about the experience of reading than keeping it pristine forever.
"She lay on her stomach on the cold floor and thought. Later on-- when she was twenty-- she would be a great world-famous composer."
"It would be in New York City or else in a foreign country."
"...in a foreign house where in the winter it would snow. Maybe in a little Switzerland town with the high glaciers and the mountains all around [...] Or in the foreign country of Norway by the gray winter ocean."
These are quotes from the book about Mick Kelly, a fourteen-year-old girl around whom much of the book revolves. She spends a lot of her life daydreaming and inadvertently being cruel, which may well be the way all 14-year-old girls pass the time. Throughout the whole book, she dreams about being twenty as if it's the finish line or the pinnacle of everything that came before. Which to her, of course, it is.
Here I am, twenty and in a foreign country by a gray winter ocean. And I can't shake the feeling that this book is somehow mine. Finishing it will be a bereavement.