Our Reading Lives

A Thoughtful Bookish Gift on a Difficult Day

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Josh Hanagarne

Staff Writer

Josh Hanagarne is a public librarian in Salt Lake City and spends his time at work trying to convince people that Nicholas Sparks is not a genre of one. He also knows how to tie a bow tie. Follow him on twitter: @joshhanagarne

When I was twenty my parents drove me to a movement disorder clinic in Pasadena. My Tourette Syndrome was worsening and times were getting desperate in our previously peaceful household.

Before we left my dad rented a stupidly massive SUV for the drive so we could be “comfortable.” There was nothing comfortable about the eighteen hour drive, particularly with my noisy and erratic symptoms in the confines of the vehicle.

We left early in the morning, but we finished the drive in the dark. I read frantically while the sun was going down, knowing that my dad wouldn’t be able to leave the dome light on to let me read for the last few hours of the drive. His night vision was horrible and the light gave him a headache.

The visit to the clinic the next morning provided little by way of answers, but it was another box to check on behalf of Never Giving Up. We were all so frustrated by what felt like a wasted trip, and were trying not to take it out on each other.

We had to drive back to Nevada immediately so dad could get back to work. But before we got to the freeway entrance, he turned the vehicle and said, “I’ve got to make a quick stop.”

This was surprising. When dad set a schedule, he stuck to it, and he was looking at another eighteen hours in that SUV before going to work almost immediately the next morning.

It was more surprising when he pulled into the parking lot of a book store. One of the outlet stores where the books are just stacked on tables.

“Go find anything you want,” he said.

We went in and I browsed. Not only did dad not rush me, he stayed by my side and watched me look at novels and books of short stories. He didn’t share my mania for fiction, but he asked me to tell him about the books I was looking at.

I left with my first copies of Setting Free The Bears by John Irving, The War Prayer by Mark Twain, and Letters From The Earth: The Uncensored Writings of Mark Twain. 

I hugged my dad and we got back on the road. He’d known the books would give me some comfort–reading was the only thing that reliably gave me any peace–after the disappointment of the doctor’s visit. But sundown was only five or six hours away at that point, and I was only going to be able to read for so long.

I was halfway through Setting Free The Bears when I heard a click from the front seat. Dad had turned on the dome light. He smiled at me in the rear-view mirror.

“Dad,” I said, “You don’t have to–”

“Be quiet,” he said. “Keep reading.”

I read for most of the night. When I finally put down the book it was because I was exhausted and thought I might be able to sleep. But when I laid down on the seat my tics started again. I was too twitchy and couldn’t relax.

Dad pulled over and asked me to switch places with my mom, who’d been riding in the passenger seat.

I went up and sat next to him. Mom went to sleep quickly in the back seat. A couple of miles passed before dad started talking.

“Which one were you reading?” I said.

I told him.

“Tell me all about it,” he said. “Don’t leave anything out.”

I love you dad. I’ve never forgotten what that night meant to me.