Keynes and Lucia silenced me this week. Keynes, because I have many an unread book beckoning from every corner and don’t mind it one bit. Lucia, because the perfect book isn’t just the perfect book. The perfect book is that which makes you fall in love with yourself and the world again, if only for a little while, if only you’re able to identify your stupor and hunger as love. And when the new romance eventually fades with time, it is replaced, as with all real romance, by nostalgia. A nostalgia that quietly pulses in your tissues somewhere deep inside, wordlessly begging for those words again.
Afterward, you read many books. Most of them are mediocre, some of them are wonderful. Some feed the person you are in one moment, others help you escape that person in another moment. Some tell you you are awe-inspiring, others show you what real awe is. And this can go on for years. And the only way to find it again is to keep reading, to keep prying your heart open, filling it with hope and accepting all of it… beautiful, ugly, true, false — the whole mess. And still, nothing quite compares with that one (if you’re mindful and, let’s face it, lucky, maybe two or three) love affair(s) which broke you apart and allowed the light to shine through.
And this is why I’m a materialist. This is why, when years ago my library burned in a fire, I mourned for months as if I were mourning the loss of the dearest, dearest thing to me. (Everyone thought I was overdoing it a bit.) There must always be books in my line of vision, wherever I look, with which I have not yet experienced intimacy. Because the only thing more sublime than the experience is the anticipation. And I’m a materialist because my most prized possessions are books, things for which I will go to great lengths to protect and to keep. But why, you may ask.
Surely, you’ve heard of the Kindle. Surely, you can simply buy another copy, wherever you are in the world. And that’s true. But it isn’t. Because once or twice throughout the rest of your life, you tire of fighting and you yearn for everything to disappear; you’ll give anything to erase all the words in your head and replace them with those of your true love. So you pick up that book again. And you’re salivating. And maybe, if you’re a little unhinged to begin with, your heart is beating against your chest like a child locked in a closet.
You settle in and you open the very same book that has on its second page the imprint of the coffee cup from which you drank years ago. Further in, the pages are warped because you had no use for wiping your eyes or your nose. On another page you find jagged pencil marks, lines under almost every sentence. Half the book is dog-eared because that was the page. And this was the page.
And you weep because it’s been so long. Because you’ve missed it so. Because it’s time now to feel it again, to be one again with the mind that made those words, and the life that shaped that mind, and the world that nurtured and polluted that life.
And you keep reading and realize… well, you realize that it isn’t the same.
It simply isn’t the same. You never step in the same river twice. But you must, you just have to, convince yourself that sitting on the riverbank is good enough. Beautiful enough. You have to sit on the riverbank, buttressed by countless more books you haven’t read, and cradle the memory. Save whatever is left of the ember, by blowing on it as much as you have to. And you’ll have the perfect memory, free of desire. And it will carry you.