I read a book on our vacation in Norway. No, read is the wrong verb. I didn’t just read this book, I devoured it.
I read hundreds of books a year. I keep up with the best children’s books published each year, and that’s a robust list. I read adult fiction, too, and although I love to read---in fact, end each day reading in bed---this vacation book was a different experience. I loved its characters so much that I never wanted to leave their world. I only allowed myself two chapters a day, because I wanted to stretch out the reading experience, the way I eat guacamole, one little dip at a time, to make it last the whole night. And when I finished it, on the last day of the trip, the sorrow that it was over was almost unbearable.
The weird thing is, it wasn’t actually the book itself that swept me away. It was a page turner to be sure, and emotional, but not great literature. It didn’t exactly merit all the passionate love I felt for it. So what was it?
It was this.
We were far away from society, well north of the Arctic Circle. We had no TV, no screens to speak of---only fresh air, solitude and time (24 hour daylight). When we first arrived, I had a sense of utter panic. What was I going to do for two weeks in this stark Viking landscape? Where was the stimulation? Would my brain implode from the silence of it all? Several days into the trip, I felt my mind literally start to relax, to quiet down. Away from the chatter of email, twitter, facebook, and the daily hysteria of the 24 hour news stations, the book became the thing that my mind craved. I looked forward to it at the end of each day---not to finish it and move on to the next story, but to drag it out, to live it and be engulfed by it, to make it last. Not since those endless summer afternoons growing up in Burbank, reading under our apricot tree, had I felt that way about a book. Back then, I never wanted A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to end. And don’t even ask about Marjorie Morningstar.
Of course, in the Burbank of 1959, there were no screens. No such thing as digital. Even TV in my house was limited to Sunday morning Meet the Press interviews, which to me was even worse than no TV. So the craving for story, the need to fill my heart with the struggles and triumphs of other humans, came from quiet times with books that I hoped would last forever. And that’s what happened to me in Norway. High above the Arctic Circle, far away from the honking noise of the information highway, I found that stillness allowed me to recapture the pure pleasure of reading. I devoured a book, and man, was it delicious.