Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's so. godawfully. hot. and humid.

When I open the door to go outside (to smoke, or to run--oh, the irony) it's like walking into an invisible wall. You can feel the air--not the breeze but the air itself, humidity in the 90% range, oppressive, heavy. And when you come back inside, you're wet--not just with sweat, though of course there's that too, but with condensation that's settled on your cooler (!!) skin. I haven't experienced weather like this since I visited my great-aunt in Arkansas the summer I was ten. The atmosphere was soupy then, too, and even at 10 and 11 o'clock at night my cousins and I would swim in her backyard pool. That was when my grandmother was still alive, and my uncle hadn't succumbed to emphysema and cancer. We all drove down South together in my grandma's huge van, the air conditioning on so high that the windows fogged up and I curled under a polyester blanket in the backseat for warmth. Somewhere around Little Rock I ate a half a bag of "Harvest Cheddar" SunChips; thirty miles later we pulled to the side of the road so that I could throw up. I haven't eaten cheddar SunChips since, and even thinking about them makes me feel a little queasy, as if I could still feel the van rocking towards West Helena, Arkansas, the blanket tight around me, a Judy Blume book in my hand.

That was what I did when I felt bored, or lonely, or frightened as a child; I read. During a horrible last stint in daycare, the summer before fourth grade--where the other kids made fun of me for going to summer school when I didn't have to ("for enrichment," I corrected them, to disbelieving guffaws), and the staff were by turns neglectful and wrathful--I read a book a day. When the daycare workers put on videos, I read. Encyclopedia Brown. Books on capital punishment from the children's nonfiction section of the library (for years I lived in fear that I would be taken away and put on death row; didn't my father always tell me I was no good?). Historical children's fiction. Bruce Coville. Books my parents bought for me at the Christian bookstore down the street, in which the main character always learned a lesson about faith, or obedience, or honesty, by having wild adventures. I wasn't missing much on the video front, at least--we watched Grease 2 at least once a day, because the daycare director's daughter was enamored of it. I sighed and turned the page.
At school, when I'd finished the assigned worksheets or problems, I read, my knees resting on the edge of the desk until my legs fell asleep. By first grade I was already allowed into the "chapter books" section of the school library, reserved for the 4th, 5th and 6th graders. Nearly every morning, before school began, I went into the library and deposited my two old books carefully on the counter. The librarian checked them in, then checked me out when I returned with my next two choices. She was always very kind to me; I think she knew why I read so much, the things I was hiding from, the fact that I tried to cram words into my head in the hope that some of them might come out my mouth, let me tell someone the truth--but she never pushed.
"You'll like this," she told me, holding out a new Beverly Cleary novel. "You liked Ramona and Beezus. I know you'll like this one." And that was the closest she ever came to asking--the subtle give and take of recommendations, of choices. Judy Blume (though not the 'naughty' ones), Beverly Cleary, E.L. Koningsberg, Lois Lowry. Already an affinity for female authors, female protagonists. Maybe that's why I still wish the Harry Potter series were the Hermione Granger series.
Somewhere I turned to other things to quell my fears, other ways to hide from unrest and upheaval--other dreams made flesh. Running over reading. Purging over page-turning. I read non-fiction through most of high school, lost some of that childish dreaminess. I picked fiction up briefly my senior year with Haruki Murakami and Margaret Atwood, some Amy Tan, some Kent Haruf. I am returning to fiction--to writing it (which I've never considered as a medium--poetry and essays, that's me) to reading it. I reread The Kitchen God's Wife last week and it made me cry more than once, tears streaming like Amy Tan's lucid prose; I just finished reading Holy Fools--loaned indulgently from Susan--and liked it so much I went out and bought Chocolat, which I likewise devoured. Pun perhaps intended.

So let's say I'm bookish. A bookworm, waiting to wriggle into the spaces between sentences, the ambiguities between words. Let's say that an entry which I intended to have be about the weather has become an essaylet, on a topic I didn't anticipate at all.

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.
--Groucho Marx

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