Letting the Books Decide

On Monday I was looking for a book to read, and rather than glance at the stack of books beside me in the living room, or at the stack of books in my bedroom, I decided to wander to yet another room and peruse my to-read bookcase (yes, I have an entire bookcase dedicated to books I need to read, this is what happens when your tbr piles become treacherously tall) and the cover of one caught my eye. You might remember that I do, in fact, judge books by their covers, and this one just seemed so perfect for what I needed this week.

It turned out to be anything but, which is not a fault of this dazzling book, it is clearly a me problem, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The wind-down of summer always puts me in a nostalgic mood, remembering the excitement of gearing up for school when I was a student, and the excitement of gearing the boys up for school when they were students. Please note this was always my excitement, not theirs. How I managed to birth two humans that have zero interest in school supplies and new shoes I will never understand. But now? Now I don’t have either of those scenarios and I really miss them.

There is always a little bit of apprehension for the “new year” and all the promise that September holds. I still hold the Tuesday after Labour Day as the true start of the new year and I probably always will. Don’t, as they say, at me.

That apprehension is heightened this year, of course, due to the pandemic and the mishandling by the provincial government of schools reopening and pretty much everything else, and even though I am not having to make the same tough decisions other parents are, I do feel that collective anxiety, all those “what ifs” hanging in the air.

The summer days slide by sluggishly, the heat makes everything slow right down, routine is for the most part a distant memory. Corners are cut, plans are put off until it’s cooler (valid) or darker (also valid). Who wants to be productive in August, anyway? But come September, oh it’s on. So there is pressure, after all. Self-imposed pressure, of course, but isn’t that the most intense kind?

So when I browsed for a book to read, I was looking for something that would reflect that summertime slowness, a story that would reveal itself little by little, a story I could take my time with, relax with, perhaps mitigate some of that apprehension that looms as summer comes to a close.

Instead, Blue Field by Elise Levine caught me up and sliced me through with its stunning look at grief and anger, pain and loss. All while spinning me in every direction with prose sometimes stark and fractured and mean, and other times so perfectly and beautifully lyrical, making me lose all sense of balance and which way is up. And I am not even talking about the descriptions of the underwater cave and shipwreck diving.

I truly have no business reading books about diving, especially about dive adventures that might possibly go awry.

I don’t know that I am entirely claustrophobic, confined spaces do give me trouble, but it’s not all confined spaces. Elevators, for example, don’t bother me. I don’t love crowds, but I think that’s more of a getting old kind of thing – even pre-pandemic. Post-pandemic, I believe we will all be terrified of crowds.

But watching The Great Escape? The whole movie is about prisoners digging a tunnel and they spend time in the tunnel, because they are digging the tunnel. That stressed me out badly. Same with that episode of CSI where Nick gets buried alive. I watched it from the kitchen, peeking in only when John told me the scene had changed. Even descriptions of trenches in books about the First World War challenge me, so maybe it’s claustrophobia or maybe it’s just tight spaces where people don’t have control over their situation, where they are in danger or there is potential for disaster? Either way, cave diving and diving into and exploring ships hits all those stress buttons for me too.

I found myself holding my breath, skimming over these intense passages only to go back and read them again because they were so very good and necessary, but wow, so many parts were really difficult to get through. There were some sweaty palms, friends.

It’s funny how a book reveals itself to you when you least expect it, when you’re searching for a particular kind of read and something else, something nearly the exact opposite of what you think you want ends up being perfect.

Blue Field wasn’t the book I thought I needed to read in these last days of August, but it was the book I actually did need to read.

I have owned this book for four years and I know I have looked at it more than once before, picked it up, ran my hand along the cover, read the blurb on the back, and returned it to the shelf. “Hmmm, not now,” I would think.  So why now now? Why, when I was looking for something different something – and let’s be honesty here – easier, why did I decide on Blue Field. Well, why not, the reading goddesses might answer. Do the books know us better than we know ourselves? Not to get weirdly philosophical or supernatural or anything, but sometimes it seems they do.

And so? I read it. I devoured it in about a day and a half; the story, the writing, it’s all staying with me and I have returned to sections again and again just to feel the intensity of the language, the story. This was what I needed to pull me out of the writing/blogging drought I’d been floundering in. I needed that heightened sense of awareness as I read, I needed the adrenaline rush. Blue Field did that for me and then some.

Has a book ever thrust itself upon you like this? Did you accept your fate willingly? If so, I would love to hear about your experience!




5 responses to “Letting the Books Decide

  1. The books KNOW. It’s uncanny. I can’t name a specific example at the moment, but yes, the way they tend to meet you where you’re at. Especially when you didn’t even know where you were.

  2. Oh yes. I’ve experienced that for sure and it was exactly what I had needed at the time.

  3. Pingback: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead | The Urban Info Girl

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