Yesterday, I might have hugged a book.
Sitting on the couch in Bookseller’s windowless breakroom, the air as warm, still and humid as the inside of a mouth, I lost myself again in British author Anna Freeman’s debut novel, The Fair Fight. Having completed the final thirty or so pages, I closed the book feeling so delighted. Satisfied. Full.
I might have hugged the book.
I’m not being cagey, adopting a defensive posture to protect myself with some Paleolithic notion of “manliness”. I’m saying I might have hugged it because I really don’t know. I know how I felt when I finished The Fair Fight. Embracing that stack of bound pages in a totemic quest to prolong the feelings that Anna Freeman’s words evoked within me is entirely possible.
At that moment, on that well-worn floral print couch, in that wet-towel-in-a-July-hot-car breakroom, I loved that book.
Since its early June paperback release, I’ve found myself talking to a lot of customers about Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I’ve found myself describing it with phrases that make me sound like a genteel elderly aunt describing a neighbor’s pound cake recipe: “it’s just wonderful” and “oh, you’ll love it.”
This reaction is somewhat surprising to me, and not just because of the phrasing and tones I’ve been using to describe it. It’s most surprising because when I was compiling my favorite books of 2014, Station Eleven didn’t even make my top 5. Don’t get me wrong. I really liked it. It was probably #6 or #7, and, after reading it last fall, I did talk it up with customers who I thought might be interested. But in the ensuing near-year, my affection for it has grown. I certainly find myself talking about it more than those that finished in my top 5 last year. It’s a special book, one that a fan of thoughtful, beautifully rendered fiction could fall in love with. I certainly have.
In my youth, I could fall in love daily. With a fiery intelligence shining in her eyes. With her ease within her own skin. With her sideways wit and open laugh. With the bravery and confidence in her personal aesthetic. With the way her mouth curled up at the very edges, like a cat’s. Whatever. It could be anything. It was as ineffable. It was nebulous. It was fleeting.
With time comes experience and perspective. What I was experiencing were the attractions and infatuations of a youthful, peripatetic heart. There can be many reasons we find ourselves attracted to someone, but love is something different*.
*Note: the author makes no claims to being able to accurately define what love is, merely what it is, in select usages, not.
The books I named in my favorites from 2014 similarly reflect the numerous ways I’m rewarded by reading. Some challenged and edified (and possibly flattered) me intellectually. Some dazzled me with the alluring textures and curves of their language. Some charmed me with their formal inventiveness. However, reflecting back, they, for the most part, didn’t move me. They surprised and delighted me, but they didn’t, it appears, penetrate me the way Station Eleven did.*
*I’ll allow for the possibility of confirmation bias impacting my perceptions. Between having several coworkers who also adored Station Eleven and it having a broader appeal than the other titles on my “best of 2014” list and, as such, giving me more opportunities to talk about it with customers, perhaps it’s standing with me has benefited from the repetition with which I’ve talked about it.
One of the things I’ve found to be consistently reliable is the complete unreliability of my memories. I can generally trust my impressions, the vague emotional hues and contours affixed to past experiences. The details? Forget about it*.
*As I have.
Whatever makes the final cut for my “best books of 2015” list will reflect the most accurate reflection at that time of my inaccurate memories of my favorite books this year. In time, I’ll surely be unable to recall the reasons I found some of those books worth listing. I’ll surely omit something that will Station Eleven its way into my heart.
Memory is a liar. But yesterday, my love of The Fair Fight was true.
I might have even hugged it.