Books Are Our Friends

I devour the gift of words; I always have. As early as I can remember, my parents hauled us each week to the John McIntire Library and allowed us to pick out as many books as we could carry—and not one more. These were the days before reusable totes came back into fashion, and so it was up to my sister and I to use only our muscles to collect the stacks of books we loved. Sweet Pickles was a preschool favorite, and one of the first books I remember picking up. (Oh, what I would have given to have successfully persuaded my parents into buying the monthly Sweet Pickles Activity Bus package. It was a plastic bus-shaped tackle box full of learning activities and stickers. STICKERS! Unfortunately, my tightwad mother was in charge of finances and she wouldn’t deign to spend money unless absolutely necessary.) These books introduced my sister, Sarah, and I to peaceful conflict resolution and many idiosyncratic personalities we’d encounter growing up. Ramona Quimby tales were a fun frolic (and amusing to look back on now that I live in Beverly Cleary’s hometown), Babysitters Club books helped me figure out which personality I related to the most (I’m a Mary Anne/Mallory hybrid), and Sweet Valley Twins allowed me to validate that my own twin sister was (and still is) a full-on Jessica. I was relieved that someone else recognized that not all twins had to be perfect carbon copies of each other, inside and out. 

Beginning in early elementary, Sarah and I participated in a program called Talented and Gifted (TAG) through the school system. We would meet up with other TAG students once a week and go through multiple kinds of learning activities outside of our regular classroom work. From what I understand now, the goal was to use creative and nontraditional methods to help us further expand our promising little brains. What I understood then was that it was a chance to hang out with some friends doing brain teasers and listening to our teacher, Mrs. Swingle, talk. One of her passions was books. “Books are our friends!” she would trill. If one of us dog-eared a page to mark our place or aimed a book to throw at a neighbor, she would call us out immediately. She relentlessly proclaimed how important it was for us to treat our books like we would treat any other friend. At this, I would guiltily smooth out the dog ear I had made on the page and search around for a bookmark…Mrs. Swingle missed nothing. 

I logged thousands of pages in middle and high school (I have the Read-a-Thon logs to prove it!), and my literary tastes expanded. During my teen years, I loved the mystical and otherworldly stories from Christopher Pike that made me think about the universe in a more spiritual way (see Sati for the most memorable one). I tore through books like Stranger With My Face, about the fascinating idea of astral projection. I gobbled the words that spilled out. I needed these friends that tore me away from my everyday, in-the-box thinking.  

Image courtesy of goodreads.com

Quarantine has reopened my eyes to hard copy books. I’ve never had the urge to pick up an eReader—those are for kids and Baby Boomers only, in my opinion—but listening to content is a different story. My commute went from driving an hour or more every day to the 15 seconds it takes to walk to the kitchen table. I hated driving to work, but I loved the opportunity to listen to audiobooks and podcasts. 

Work, errands, responsibilities, they all take away precious reading time, but as an adult I still need my friends. Adapting to modern ways of reading for me has been full of resistance because I am an admitted book snob. In truth, I think it mostly boils down to being a writer. We writers are apt to smell our books, to touch the pages reverently, appreciate the sound and feel of each word. Life moves in cycles, however, and I won’t always be able to keep stacks of books around. Eventually, when I’m older, I’ll probably want one of those eReaders that I find so objectionable now.

#iamabooknerd: Tweets from Wordstock 2017

There are those who believe that a book is meant to be enjoyed once, then set free. What’s that saying? If you love something, let it go. These folks are staunch believers that you can never get that initial frisson of excitement again, so why bother reading anything more than once?
Then there are people like me. I’ve read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides at least five times since it was published in 2002. Every single time, I get that rush. Every single time, I turn the pages in ecstasy, words like fine chocolate. Every. Single. Time.

Middlesex_novel

Love love love this book!


Last Saturday I braved the rain and ten thousand other book nerds to attend my very first Portland Wordstock. I dressed in layers, but not too many that I would be sweating all over the books I would inevitably buy. I brought a hat for the trips between venues. And I packed my water bottle but sadly, forgot the snacks.
|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: Bring major snacks. By the time you find a short enough food truck line, it’ll be time for your next reading.
Hands down, my favorite reading was from the duo of Jeffrey Eugenides and Danzy Senna. Jeffrey admitted that he cracks jokes to keep nervousness at bay, but he certainly didn’t seem nervous while keeping us in stitches. His quotes about character development, Detroit, and his new book of short stories, Fresh Complaint were tinged with guffaw-worthy, self-effacing humor.
|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: It is completely a-okay to fangirl out over a middle aged man with hilarious hair and a Mr. Rogers sweater… if it’s Jeffrey Eugenides. #iloveyoujeffrey #youtooDanzy
I’d never heard of the other speaker, Danzy Senna, but that didn’t stop me from buying her book, New People, after hearing her read one paragraph, then speak of the philosophy behind the book.
newpeople

Cannot wait to crack this open!


|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: Get to every venue line at least 40 minutes early. I was exactly 30 minutes early to my next reading and it’s at capacity already.
I picked four other readings that I wanted to attend. I made it into two. I realized that in order to participate fully and effectively at Wordstock, you need at least one other person: a friend to hold your place at the venue…someone to grab lunch at one of the food carts while you wait in line for the bathroom. A buddy to get autographs while you scope out the next event or the enticing book fair(s). Someone who remembered to bring a large enough backpack for all the books you bought. Tandem attendance is essential! #lifelessons
And did I mention the Wordstock pre-funk on Friday evening? What is Lit Crawl? Two words: Booklover’s Burlesque! Lit Crawl Portland was spread out all over downtown Portland, bringing together readers, writers, and the oh-so-curious. I attended two events at Cassidy’s, but the most memorable was the Booklover’s Burlesque.
I watched the burlesque with a man I met on Tinder last year. Early on in the dating process, we realized we were star-crossed lovers. According to Willy Shakespeare, such pairings are often said to be doomed from the start…and ours absolutely was. However, our adventures always turned into amazing dates, so we continue to see each other every once in a while as friends. If you haven’t tried this, it’s absolutely wonderful to have a plus one with whom there is established chemistry, but absolutely no expectation or goal. //tangent over//
The tiny room was packed before the show even started, so we squeezed in tight behind the beveled glass windows and watched, fascinated. Since we were outside the room, we couldn’t tell what they were reading. I’m still curious whether it was some sort of erotica, whereby the burlesque would make the most sense, or if it was randomly chosen material with the burlesque added for paradoxical flair. Either way, it was scintillating, titillating, and delightful to watch.
Overall impressions of Wordstock weekend?
*Totally overwhelming lines and crowd, totally AWESOME experience.
*It’s an awfully large/loud/crowded event for a bunch of introverts.
*Did I mention I got to see Jeffrey Eugenides?? #IloveyouJeffrey #YoutooDanzy
*Next year, I want to be prepared! Partner in crime, snacks, scheduled break times, the works.
*BE EARLY FOR EVERY DAMN THING.
So! Did you go to Wordstock? If so, was it your first time or are you a seasoned veteran? Do you have any tips for next year?