I did something yesterday that I haven't done for pleasure since I was a teenager. When I was actively reviewing books for The Plain Dealer on a weekly basis, I used to read books in a day or two. But that was work. I was being paid to do so and I found the best way for me to critique a book in 250 words was to read it from start to finish and write about my initial impressions.
Yesterday, however, was different. My friend had given me Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle: A Memoir on Saturday night. As my coffee was brewing, I opened the book and read through the acknowledgments and then turned to the first chapter. It opens with Walls in a taxi on her way to a swanky Manhattan party. As she looks out the window, she sees a homeless woman rooting through a garbage dumpster. When she realizes it is her mother, she slinks down in the backseat of the cab and asks to be taken home to her Park Avenue apartment.
How her mother came to be homeless in New York and her feelings toward her mother's state are just one piece of this complicated and surprisingly inspiring story about family, alcoholism, dreams and survival. I just couldn't put it down. I drifted from room to room in our house, checked in on laundry throughout the day, dropped kids off here and there. Eventually, I wound up in the shade of our giant maple and read as the sun was setting, the sprinkler was watering my tomatoes and a breeze cooled the hot evening air.
When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite summer activities. I would go about it in much the same way as I did yesterday -- moving from my bedroom, to the sofa and outside to the hammock. Reading was perfectly paired with the chore of laundry and it gave me an excuse to indulge in my most treasured activity while still doing something productive in my mother's eyes.
After fighting off the initial guilt of whiling away the day, I sank into the rhythm of the story and the laziness that a hot summer day imbibes. It was decadent and I'm glad to have spent the day in such a way.
As a result, I didn't read any papers yesterday and was doing a little catch-up early this morning. I found an interesting essay in the New York Times Book Review by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He credits his writing style to his love of jazz music and wrote this about notes on the piano:
One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: “It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!”
The same, of course, can be said of words.