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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Help! I Am Becoming My Chair!

Mine was a hardcover.
There is a cartoon circulating around facebook that sums it up for me today. I’ve just finished a life-changing book and noticed a trend in my most recent book choices. The book is called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and it’s about a girl who can taste the feelings of the cook in every meal she consumes. Not much fun for little Rose, who is the MC—especially when she tastes that her mother is miserable.
     There are various reasons that this book is life-changing for me. Numero One: It got me thinking of what my kids would taste in my food—and I didn’t like what I came up with. Numero Two: The genre of the book is one that I’ve been drawn to over and over. My last reading stint included two books by Sarah Bird (The Gap Year and the Yokoto Officers Club). These two and Aimee Bender’s Cake are examples of a fascinating crossover genre that incorporates a lot of YA elements in a story that is placed firmly within the realm of adult literary fiction. It’s not New Adult—because that category doesn’t seem to embrace the literary quite like these crossovers do. It’s not like Room, because the MCs’ lives are traced over a period of formative years. It seems more of a hybrid of the two. Whatever it is, I want to tap it.
     Another amazing revelation spawned from Aimee Bender’s Cake is my gift, which I now accept as such wholeheartedly. You see, in Cake it turns out that various members of Rose’s family have gifts approximating her ability to taste emotions in a dish. They just never talk about them. Too taboo. Hits too close to home. Yadda, yadda. Déjà vu reverberated in my brain as I empathized with these characters. Why? It finally dawned on me. I have a similar—albeit not so glamorous—ability. Titles sing to me. When I walk into a library, I never have to research authors or ask the librarian or even friends for recommendations. If there is a book I’d like to read but I’ve forgotten the author, I don’t need to look it up. I pick an aisle, stroll through and wait. Eventually a title will blink from the towering shelves that flank me on either side. That’s right—the spine of one book surges up, shot through with light. (Hey! At least I didn’t admit to masticating on hate and greed. Work with me here!) Oftentimes, it is the very book I had in mind. Sometimes it’s not, but it’s still one I need to read.
     Now, I’m not going to claim that the book jumps off the shelf into my hand, but if I’d somehow stumbled into The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (which I had, by the way, and stayed fully immersed there for two days), it would do just that. And, honestly, I shouldn’t make the poor books do all the work. I contribute by plucking the book with the ticker-tape-ish, blinking spine off the shelf. (Alright, alright. In all fairness, the title only blinks until I touch it.) I then take it to the front counter, where I check it out. On occasion, I ignore the blinking one and steal off to aisle Er-Fa for a nice, light Janet Evanovich. Those never blink at me. They wink.
     I haven’t confided this to many people over the years, but when I have it’s almost always garnered me some odd looks, which I’ve got to say are pretty scary coming from people who already know how weird I am. That can’t be what really happens, these looks seem to say. That doesn’t happen.
An obvious choice 
     I too would prefer to dismiss it as an intuitive way of making reading decisions, just as young Rose tried to escape from the reality of her eating…disorder. And I have. Even in college, when I conceded that the trend was here to stay as opposed to being a silly game played with myself. Even when I noticed that the books that blinked had eerie parallels to something that was about to happen in my life, I laughed it off. An example of this is when I picked up my first Graham Greene book on a whim (snort). My brother, who had been away pursuing a Master’s degree in another state, came home for some holiday and saw it on my nightstand. Bemused, he said, “You like Graham Greene? I never knew that.”
     I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just picked it up at the library.”
     “That’s weird,” he said. “Because I’m taking an intensive course on Greene.” He scratched his head and cleaned his glasses. Then he shrugged too, and we continued our game. (It was a board game. Imagine that.) My brother had been researching Graham Greene for months, was writing a paper on him, but couldn’t remember ever mentioning it to me. We never talked about school in our household. Our parents used some sort of reverse psychology to get us to attend college. They trashed the universities non-stop, labeling them useless, money-grabbing outfits. We enrolled quicker than you can say Ponzi scheme.
     Which brings me to Numero Three in the life-changing bullet-point list regarding The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Bender weaves the story in a way that makes the reader believe. I won’t ruin the ending, except to say that something happens which would be all-out laughable if Aimee Bender wasn’t such a skilled storyteller. My husband did laugh when I told him. But the same retelling that inspired such mirth for him chilled my soul. As the unbelievable words made lyrical fiction escaped my lips, they rendered my harmless little skill (which I now argue taps the psychic energy of an Avatar-esque mother tree that is the written word) ominous. The blinking could mean use caution instead of read this, I thought. Like poor Zan in the above video, my Wonder-Twin power fizzled to crap. It had never occurred to me before that the blinking guides to my reading decisions could be dangerous. Until now. I mean, what makes them blink? Who chooses them? It doesn’t feel like it’s me.
     Then, to my horror, I saw the parallel to writing, which is often like a monster in the attic threatening to break out. Unmentionable, uncontrollable and somehow deviant. My writing has historically been the thing that needed to be suppressed, whereas the reading part is A-okay. More ominous info: I’ve been writing so hard these days I’m afraid I will fuse to my chair. No, wait, what I meant to say is that it would be easier and far more acceptable to fuse to the chair than to get the words onscreen arranged to my satisfaction. That’s how I feel. Bereft. This is usually when I take a break and do some reading.
     But maybe at moments like these I should push harder. If it’s the reading that is deviant, I can grant myself permission to continue to write. I’ll do an experiment and take a little vacay from the library—or at the very least get some blinders. Perhaps I’ll go back to pretending I’m simply intuitive when it comes to selecting reading material. Except now the cat’s out of the bag. Do me a favor. Forget I ever mentioned the blinking part. Unless…anyone else have a benign "skill" they’d like to confess?


  1. I think your "gift" is very cool. I don't have any gifts, but at times a book will sit on my bookshelves for months or even years, started but not finished, or not even opened. And then one day it will catch my notice. I'll read it, and it will be the book I needed to read right then.

  2. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one for which books seem to channel some kind of psychic energy. Thanks for commenting, Marianne!