Back when all of life felt bigger than me, my sister and I would play to play together the most elaborate and imaginative stories we could muster, planning for hours until we were too tired to play when all was said and done. So began a love for story. And the first place I knew where to find stories were in books. Big books, little books, pictures or none, I found friends in them all. Ramona Quimby, Anne Shirley, and Nancy Drew were sisters of a kindred spirit, and I imagined myself into each of their stories.
I have always belonged to stories. Show me a book, a painting, any picture or person, I will fill in details not found in plain sight. Even a work of art that already has a story attached, such as “La Belle Dame san Merci” by John William Waterhouse (one of my favorites), that is based on a narrative poem, meant something different to me. I don’t think of myself as a storyteller, as much as a storyfinder.
Our public library had a big wooden boat structure that I found fascinating, and I would sometimes follow through on my plan to play there with the other children when we would visit, but more often than not I would run my time down crouched on the floor in front of the shelves, holding my breath as I started reading the books I was planning on checking out. In high school, the birth of the Great Big Book Store changed my life. Barnes and Noble and Borders held so much hope of things to read and learn and get lost in, I would get goosebumps just walking through the doors.
But even those stores were nothing more than a high school romance compared to how I felt walking into The Tattered Cover in Denver, CO, for the first time. “This is it,” I thought, “This is the one.” Everything feels right about that store, from the wide and sweeping staircase to the shelves, set up into corners and nooks, rather than long stretching aisles, so that shouldering up to a section feels like accepting an invitation to a private conversation.
And like most bibliophiles, I love all things about books. The beauty of a leather-bound cover and the words it holds together are equally fascinating and important.
My romance with words has started to feel a bit more like a failing marriage, though. I still have a deep-seated desire and need to read, to be fed by stories. But much like a relationship that has started to sour, I have stopped trusting my blessed and beloved books. I have reached the point where I am certain I will be disappointed by a book before I even finish reading the cover. In fact, there have been times I have been disappointed by the cover. I see that the character’s name is Daisy Flower (and she owns a flower shop!), and I put it promptly back on the shelf before I can risk being burned by its stupidity.
Ah. But there’s the rub. Someone else will pick up that book and think, “How clever!” And they will smile all the way to the cashier. I don’t want to be the one to snark on anyone’s story-time. (Despite what the Oxford English Dictionary might say, I have decided that “snark,” in this day of opinionated and loud cynicism, should be a verb, not a noun describing an imaginary animal. Sorry, Lewis Carroll.) Why would I want to pour my stale coffee on someone who has been able to maintain a high level of romance with their stories? That’s what it feels like when someone poo-poos something you like, doesn’t it? Their bitterness leaks all over your good time and suddenly your treasured Daisy Flower has wilted.
I have timidly been tip-toeing back into the pools of unfamiliar books. Edging back into dating some new authors. I show up to a first date skeptical, but not cynical. I’ve given them a chance. Let’s at least get through dinner. But by the second date, some chemistry needs to be stirring, or it just isn’t worth it.
I don’t expect all books to be all things. Some are strong on story, so strong I don’t even stop long enough to notice the writing, and that, in my opinion, is good writing. Some are slim on story, but written in such beautiful prose and labyrinths of language I cannot help but stop and drink it in. But I have waded knee-deep through fifty shades of bad writing to find even those two kinds of books.
Then there are the miracles, where both story and prose work together in such breathless and delicious rhythm, I am at once saddened that the story has ended, and itching to write one of my own. Like any healthy relationship, that is what a good book should do— for a writer, anyway. Take you out of yourself long enough to see just who you know you were meant to be.
Tell me, oh tell me, who do you love to read? What authors have you been dating? I promise not to snark on your story-time.
(All Photographs are courtesy of Kimberly Roark.. Thanks, Lady!!)