My brain, lately, has been almost too fried to read. I can’t exactly follow a plot without getting distracted by something else in the room. I’ve become an impatient reader. In this world where everything is so instant, I find myself unwound by a book that takes time, and polite pleading. However, I’m also reading the most perfect book to remind me of the purpose of the wait. Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera is too beautiful. It reminds me how hard it will be to fashion my own book after pages like this have been written. Today, I’m going to share a quote that I think anyone who reads this blog can respect. Later this week, my quote will devastate you. This is both a warning and an introduction.
In this quote, the narrator has traveled to America from Sri Lanka (due to the beginning of war on the Tamil people) and she has discovered libraries.
“If La’s particular obsession was the precise moment as which blue becomes green, mine had to do with books, words, paragraphs, and the ways they fit together on a page, nestled next to each other, waiting like time bombs. The greatest thing about America to me was the constant availability of books. The first time I walked into an American library, bells rang and cherubs sang about my head.
I wandered about in rapture, borrowed books by the armload, and became known to the librarians. I liked to inhabit books, devour them. Reading seemed so similar to eating, to consumption. I didn’t like to eat now unless there was a book open by my plate. A habit Amma hated and shouted at me often over. If I could get away with it, I would have written in the margins of my favorite books, drawn diagrams, arrow, and small pictorial commentaries in direct conversation or argument with the writer. Instead, I read in the bathtub, at the dinner table, on the bus, leaving a trail of books behind me. Amma and Thatha revered books. They read carefully without bending pages or breaking spines, bent to kiss them if they fell on the floor. There were aghast at what they saw as my irreverence, and I in turn could never understand the politeness with which they read” (Munaweera, 116).
The moment that got me in this quote was “words…waiting like time bombs.” I think that little phrase gets at the reason why there are so many readers, and so many readers throughout time. The words are like a field of improvised explosive devices. But not the kind that have murdered those who serve, but the kind that open small holes so that as Leonard Cohen so famously said, light can get in. While I read, I’m allowed into this alternate world that I could never know otherwise. Someone is giving me the opportunity to travel, to experience, to empathize, to add significance to things I didn’t know previous. I love this about the world of words, the vastness of it, and the small garden plots, barren lands, and topped mountains that rise (or don’t) from this world.
Like the narrator, I am not a polite reader. I fold pages of library books with wet thumbs. I leave crumbs in the cracks from granola bars. I can’t erase the coffee splotches that I spilled while I read with action. I leave them in dusty places in my apartment and move them when I move. The words might get wet, the pages might crease, the margins might be filled with doodles or more words. Words on words. I try to teach my students the art of annotation and the messiness in conversation. Every human conversation is messy, and so is every conversation made in the margins of someone else’s words.
The mess is where the light is.