Sunday, July 29, 2012

The First Time for a Book is Only the Beginning of Pleasure

When I first read The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty, learning about the lifestyle of grossly overweight Smithy Ide, I tiptoed through those rows of words, slowly taking in what Smithy had to tell, about his parents dying not far apart after a car accident, about his next-door neighbor Norma, who, when she was nine years old, was hit by a Volkswagen and ended up in a wheelchair permanently, about learning that his troubled sister Bethany died of exposure in Los Angeles, about the bicycle trip he decides to take to Los Angeles from Rhode Island to retrieve her body.

I wasn't sure what Smithy would offer me, what I would pick out for myself from his story, what I would hold close to me. As I slowly reached page 75, then 100, then 135 and so on (as slow as a speed reader can), there was so much I wanted to hold close to me. I loved the burgeoning relationship between Smithy and Norma, who always loved him, even when she was a kid. Smithy always pushed her away when he was 11 and then in his teens, but she never pulled away from him, never wanted to, not even when the family didn't visit her much and then not at all after her accident. Yet she still looked out through the blinds in her house, watching the family. They considered her one of them, even to Smithy's chagrin at times.

I bought The Memory of Running in paperback, because I checked it out of the Valencia library a few years ago, but never read it, and was curious about it again. After I finished it, after traveling with Smithy in my imagination, I knew I had to keep it. This novel had affected me, made me also see the benefit of sticking, at least partially, to the diet Smithy made for himself of fruit, mainly bananas, and tuna. Good, as long as you keep moving, keep your body active. I couldn't do it to the extent that Smithy does, but it's the one trip he had to make, to discover what he was in those years of dealing with Bethany's voices and the subsequent visits to Bradley Hospital for it, and who he is now, the kind of person he can be. He's the only one left of his family and it's a sobering task to take on.

Despite the many books I could read before we move, and therefore have less to move with (it's not likely that I'll want to keep most of the books I read. In my Goodreads account, under "proudly owned," The Memory of Running was only the third book this year that I put in my permanent collection. Since then, there have been three others, including The Loop by Joe Coomer, which you must read. It's kind of, sort of like The Memory of Running, except instead of bicycling cross country, Lyman, an orphan who works as a courtesy patrolman on the highway of Dallas at night picking up tires and other debris on the roads, tries to figure out what the parrot that has just come into his life is trying to say, believing that it has answers to his life, his past, understanding that past. It's quirkier than that description for sure), I took The Memory of Running out of one of the boxes in which my permanent collection of books rests. I wanted to read it again, to see what it feels like to me now.

It's the first time I've read the same book twice in one year. The Remains of the Day merits a once-a-year reading, but if I like my permanent collection that much, then I should dig into it as often as I feel necessary. Never mind that there are so many other books I want to read. Never mind that I could very well end up reading Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly for the second, third, and fourth time this year (I read it again a few days ago and loved it even more). Never mind that I want to read Greyhound by Steffan Piper again and Taft 2012 by Jason Heller again after I finish The Memory of Running. These books, and all the others in my permanent collection, are meant to be read. They make up my mental sanctuary for myself and for my writing. I am excited about reading the beginning of the Nero Wolfe series of novels again, intending to read the series all the way through now, but I'm even more psyched to read Greyhound again, to travel on those Greyhound buses with young Sebastian Raines and relive his bus-ride friendship with Marcus, to read that moment again when Sebastian discovers Hall & Oates, and plays a few of their songs over and over.

I don't know why I haven't read my favorite books more than once a year, if at all. Today, I also learned that Erica Bauermeister's next novel, The Lost Art of Mixing, is a sequel to her The School of Essential Ingredients. I also proudly own The School of Essential Ingredients, and I want to read it again to prepare for a wonderful way to start the new year, since The Lost Art of Mixing is coming out on January 24. I have that much faith in Bauermeister to have written another gently emotional, involving, deeply descriptive novel.

And, scrolling through the second page of my "proudly owned" list, I noticed This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes, the only novel that captures completely what modern-day Los Angeles feels like. It's going with me, of course, but I should read it again, before we move. Another way to say goodbye to such a perplexing region.

It won't take me long to read these novels again, anyway. Not that I want to rush them. I want to spend more time on that Greyhound bus, to be in that nighttime cooking class headed by Lillian at her restaurant in The School of Essential Ingredients. But right now, I'm on page 154 of The Memory of Running after speeding through the beginning and what followed, faster than when I first read it. That first time, I was discovering what it contained. This time, I know what happens, but I want to experience it again, to feel all those emotions, to be touched by Smithy and Norma gradually connecting again, albeit by phone while Smithy's on the road. It feels just as strong as if they were together.

These books are mine. They're what I know through 26 years of reading so far. I should use them to counter the dry spells I sometimes have in my reading, when I'm not connecting with book after book. It sometimes happens. One of my eventual goals for my collection is to have every single Andy Capp book ever published. He's my favorite comic strip character, and he's still just as funny as he was at the beginning. I've also ordered all three of Sam Shepard's short story collections. He's one of my heroes, for writing that truly captures the feeling of desert living, but not Vegas desert living. Vast emptiness, which is beautiful and unsettling at the same time, before becoming overwhelmingly beautiful. I've met a few of the people he writes about, and he's got them down perfectly. You don't go into the desert without Sam Shepard. He helps make sense of the desert and makes you want to see more, to feel more of it, to stare in awe at what's out there. I wish there had been a Sam Shepard when my family and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley. That would have made things a lot easier, just in understanding all this.

Yep, I'm going to do this. The last book I wore out from reading so much was Coldfire by Dean Koontz, which, now that I think of it, I want to read again. I bought another copy last year. My favorite books should be just as worn out. There's so much to enjoy in them again and again. And just like that, I also have a yen to read The Loop again, no matter that I only just read it for the first time last month. I know that just like The Memory of Running, I'll be reading it faster because I know what happens and want to feel its power all over again.