What little I understood was that the overseers of Library Island—our captors uttered so few words to us—were trying to tear you away from the Outer World. Every bit of you, the seen and the unseen you.
It has been a full decade since I’ve read a book of my own, singular choosing. What I mean is that every book I’ve cracked open and read in the past ten years has been read because of some friend, colleague, teacher; some review, prize, or list; some class, job, or writing goal dictated that the book was a must-read. The last book I read was a Man Booker finalist, the one before that was written by an old professor of mine, and the one before that had been both on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks and adapted into a movie. The books on my to-read list are just as semi-known, semi-vetted. Don’t misunderstand — I still read widely (in fiction, at least), and I don’t feel constricted by the focus recommended reading gives me. But I also can’t stop thinking of how I used to read. Wildly, haphazardly, with no safety net.
I had forgotten that I was allowed to talk about my feelings when recommending a book. Not just allowed, but encouraged. Not that I wasn’t “allowed” to talk about how a book made me feel when surrounded by other writers or students; it just seemed that one’s feelings were beside the point. Yes, yes, this book made you feel happy, the characters made you feel like you knew them, but why did it make you feel that way? My further education was always trying to break me out of this mold of feeling without thinking.
Let me tell you how I first met Fannie Ingram Schwahn. How I was browsing the local antique store a summer or so back when there, buried amid the flotsam and jetsam, I came upon a wedding certificate dated June 5, 1922. Fannie was listed as the bride, and though I knew nothing of her—had never even heard her name—I was entranced, nonetheless by her story. Or rather, the story of how her marriage certificate had made its ways into my hands.
To end this cycle without limiting myself to just one book at a time, I am attempting to curate the books that litter my home. I’m trying to cluster books together, to avoid, as best I can, the erasure of what I have read by what I am now reading. Memory instantly improves if you build a network of relations surrounding the remembered object, my theory being that the more I categorize a group of books together, the easier it will be to remember them all. And the categories, rather than being static, are constantly shifting. Certain books, I am finding, harmonize better than others. Certain books, when read together, satisfy all my literary cravings. Certain books start a conversation, one that teaches me how to read, think, and write better.