Many years ago, I traveled with my family to Bainbridge Island. It was our first time visiting the Pacific Northwest, and we loved it. The air was so clean and everything was so alive! And there was kayaking! And hiking! And Seattle, just a ferry ride away!
I also happened to be reading Little Bee at the time, a novel I had discovered by chance on our host’s bookshelf and was absorbed in. When I wasn’t outdoors, I could be found with Little Bee on my lap, propping it open with my thumb while scribbling quotes down with my free hand on scrap pieces of paper.
During one of our last days, my family prepared to take the ferry into Seattle. But me? I knew I’d come back to the Northwest one day. What I needed at that moment was to find out how Little Bee and Sarah’s story was going to unfold.
So I waved goodbye to my parents and sister—by then accustomed to my bookish and bizarre behavior—and for the next few hours read alone in a stranger’s house.
I’d like to tell you this was a one-time thing, my allowing a book to eclipse my being, but it’s been more of a lifelong thing.
As a child, Nancy Drew was enough of a reason for me to forgo hangouts with friends, and in middle school I became so obsessed with The Amityville Horror I carried it to class for weeks, reading it in installments while my teachers lectured. In high school, I’d actually read books in bedrooms at parties. What’s up with the weird girl? people would ask, but I was too caught up in If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! to care.
In time, I would find myself ducking out of an afternoon of sightseeing in Italy in order to finish The Bell Jar; abandoning a night out in Iceland to take in more Annie Dillard. While living in Maine, I’d volunteer at a local animal shelter—reading to dogs in their kennels. I’d become the woman who never leaves home without her beloved book.
This is my safe space, after all. Books are my refuge and home. But as an introvert, I’m beginning to wonder, how often have they been my shield?
I consider this while browsing through a local bookstore on my lunch break. I’m looking for something new to read but don’t know what, when a bookseller calls to me.
Can I make a suggestion? he asks, noticing my confusion. He picks up Mudbound by Hillary Jordan and gestures toward me.
By page four, he says with a smile, nothing else will exist.
Book Riot Live is coming! Join us for a two-day event full of books, authors, and an all around good time. It’s the convention for book lovers that we’ve always wanted to attend. So we are doing it ourselves.