When it comes to reading, I’m an evangelist.
Books love you. Books never abandon you. Books show you the way.
I steal every minute I can from this harried life ruled by 140-character bites of near-truths and untruths, of status reports high on vanity and cute-cat pictures, to read the only way worth reading — with abandonment and child-like wonder, quietly and alone.
For me, books are utilitarian — essential components of life’s survival kit, teachers and refuge — as well as objects of the purest pleasure. I measure happiness by how far I’m forced to stray from reading what I crave (fiction) to read what I must (non-fiction with social purpose).
Both are equally important literary worlds, and this week, the 30th edition of the Miami Book Fair International combines the best of the real and the imagined in a gathering that brings more than 500 authors from around the world.
Call it a tent revival for book lovers — Miami-style, in two languages — and hear us sing reading’s praises.
Reading pins faraway and unimagined geographies onto my travel map, and vice-versa: My travels catapult books to the top of my reading list.
After my eco-adventure in the Costa Rican rainforest, I was drawn to Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder, the tale of a scientist who travels deep into the Brazilian jungle in search a missing researcher. I could picture all the more vividly the journey’s suspenseful unfolding in imposing landscape, feel the sticky heat and trepidation, because I had trudged similar terrain.
On the other hand, I didn’t know much about India and Indian Americans beyond news reports, a once-upon-a-time yoga class and futile attempts at meditation.
But after reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories, beautifully crafted windows into a culture, I began to recognize its characters in our diverse community. The transplanted have been here all along, but sometimes it takes a writer’s words to awaken sensibilities. India is now high on my travel wish-list.
I was so taken by Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies on a flight to Buenos Aires, that I began writing about the reading experience on every blank space in the book. This, I’m sure, is considered book desecration, but the act of writing to affirm my appreciation became urgent, and I had packed my notebooks in checked-in luggage.
“There aren’t sparks flying,” I wrote about the quiet beauty of her prose, “and so the reading is almost a meditative experience.”
By the time I arrived, I had traveled the road from literary criticism to exorcising my fear of flying and writing — one and the same — in the space of Lahiri’s book. Such reading habits also explain why I chose at an Arizona airport bookstore Julian Barnes’ memoir on death and aging, Nothing to be Frightened Of, featuring a dark, open grave on the cover and splendid vocabulary.
I underlined “otiose” and laughed heartily. And the Brit’s singular sense of humor helped when it came time for the emergency landing.
“You put on a brave front and write,” I mused as the flight descended, “and you hope for a rewarding journey.”
Good books are read. Great books are full of markings. Exceptional books inspire.