Years ago in the dead of winter, my cousin Rachel dragged me out of my apartment and into an author’s reading at Shakespeare & Company’s former location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
I remember being hesitant to join her. I was exhausted after an incredibly long day of meeting deadlines and it was darned cold out. But, the event was happening about a block away from my building and the author was none other than John Irving. I had only read one of his books at the time: The World According to Garp. Although I had really enjoyed that quirky novel, I was reluctant to venture out. Did I mention how cold it was?
Rachel, meanwhile, had schlepped in from New Jersey and was so excited that she was practically crawling out of her skin. She had read each of Irving’s books up to that point—A Prayer for Owen Meany being her favorite—and in her mind, this event was not to be missed.
I don’t remember which of his books he was promoting at that particular reading, but I am so grateful to Rachel for pulling me out of my everyday routine to experience the magic that happened on that frigid night inside Shakespeare & Co. With too many eager readers jammed into a dimly illuminated, no-longer-in-existence space filled from floor to ceiling with books, books and more books, the great John Irving read from his work and shared background stories. It didn’t hurt that he looked and sounded more movie star than author. The whole experience was invigorating and made my subsequent reading of his novels spring to life in a way they otherwise may not have.
Reading the interviews with authors sometimes provided at the end of a novel can certainly provide insights into characters or settings that might be otherwise overlooked. Actually being in the same room with an author and listening to him/her discussing background and process, however, adds a whole other dimension. I would highly recommend it if the opportunity arises, even if it’s cold out.
When our three kids were very young, my husband and I used to bond over watching movies together after everyone went to sleep. Now that they’re a little older, the kids stay up later and seem to meander into almost all of our conversations. Our schedules are always jammed and it was getting to the point that sometimes weeks passed before we could have a decent chat about something leisurely of our own.
Last summer I decided we needed to find something for the two of us to do together before our relationship began to drift. Many ideas for new hobbies we had to toss aside immediately because of his travel schedule, and we didn’t want to impinge too much on our limited time as a family with the kids.
I came to the idea that the two of us should form our own exclusive bookgroup because we had been recommending books to each other incessantly over the years. We’ve always discussed our reading, but we’d never actually assigned ourselves a book to read at the same time.
We started off by picking two books, one fiction (Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety) and one non-fiction (Michael Hainey’s After Visiting Friends). These were excellent choices and gave us much to discuss. I had initially hoped our book talk would be over dinner out, but we found we were so anxious to talk about our reading that our discussion was far less formal and the books kept working their way back into our everyday dialog.
Although several months have passed since we finished reading our first book choices, our agenda this weekend includes selecting our next book picks. Both of us feel that reading together has been beneficial for our relationship, but I guess that’s to be expected from a pair who fell in love in grad school once they pulled their noses out of their textbooks long enough to notice each other.