I used to clean houses for a living. It was a pathetic living, barely livable, but I did it. I could write pages and pages of life altering truisms based on my observations while doing the dirty work, but I won’t. Well, I might, but I won’t do it today.
Interesting fact: Everyone has a particular ‘litter’ habit in their own home. You do. Men leave coins, loose change scattered around where they’ve been sitting. Or socks. Women leave cosmetics lying around the house— lip balm, little tubes of hand cream, nail polish. There are other inanimate fingerprints, but these are the most common.
My particular life’s detritus are books. I leave books scattered everywhere. I can’t help it. At this very moment, there are one… two… three books within my reach. Code Name Verity (the book I’m reviewing for this website), Jane Eyre (I was re-reading some of my favourite passages last night) and Aphorisms on Love and hate by Friedrich Nietzsche (I’ve been reading it in small bites for weeks). I’m sitting on the couch in my lounge. My desk, about two meters away, is drowning in books, and the hall table which is perhaps 4 meters away from the desk, has two books on it, one already-read, one to-be-read. Why are they not on the book shelf? Because, my bookshelves are full, and also because the littered books are not bookshelf ready— that is, they are being used at the moment. Books on the shelf are currently, well, shelved. Obviously.
Books loiter in every corner of my home. There is a book sitting on top of the microwave… for when I’m waiting for my food to defrost. People always ask me how I manage to read so many books. I suppose they imagine I’m spending inordinate amounts of my days sitting on my bed reading. Yes, I mean, I do sit and read more than most people, but more importantly, I don’t waste a single moment. I read every spare second I get. I can do this because I’m NEVER without a book.
(A little side note here before I move on. The only place you’ll not find a book in my house is the bathroom. Because, unlike my husband who believes the only legitimate time to read is while on the John, in my mind the notion that one lingers in that environment is absurd. You get in and you get out. It’s almost blasphemous to equate the beauty of reading with defecating. Tut.)
At the moment, my car-book is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It has been nestled between the driver’s seat and the centre console for almost a month. I read it slowly, a few minutes at a time. I read while I’m waiting for my children; I read a few minutes before I go into the grocery store (fortification) and I read it after coming out (recovery). It is an intriguing book, devasting and stoic. Devastatingly stoic.
The story portrays the horror of war, the sorrows of life, and the complete randomness of human struggle. So it goes, is a phrase repeated throughout the book, usually after a character dies, or something tragic happens. Initially, the phrase bothered me— it seems to me to be ultra fatalistic. But now, the further along in the book I get, I am growing accustomed to the inevitable statement. Vonnegut suggests an acceptance that life has difficult, even horrific moments, and shrinking away from them is futile. The question posed by the book (in my estimation), is not why horrible things happen, but how we should respond when they do.
Yesterday was a bizarre day. I woke up with the instant awareness of a pounding headache and increasing nausea. I had zero symptoms the day before (except an unexplained irritability, but if grumpiness is symptomatic, well then I’m terminal). The morning progressed unfavourably, with my children randomly hurting themselves, and me having to pull over to the side of the road and vomit my guts out on the shoulder. I had to shout at myself for the entire drive home from school (narcoleptic episode looming), but I made it home alive (hyperbole, yes). I crawled back into bed, only to feel the budding euphoria of wellness less than fifteen minutes later. I got up, took a shower and went out to do my chores for the day. Sickness vanished. So it goes.
I also had the strangest conversation with my daughter’s doctor— a reporting of abnormalities found in her latest bloodwork, which, the doctor insisted, I should absolutely not worry about. She said they’re normal abnormalities. Right. So it goes.
My friend gave me the latest update on last week’s fiasco. A couple of teenagers broke into her house, stole her keys (only) and took her car for a joy ride around town. They had two accidents on their little outing. The boys have been arrested. She told me that the thirty thousand dollars worth of photographic equipment she lost (left in the stolen car), is currently being hawked on Twitter. The police say they can do nothing about it since they don’t deal with social media crime. Who knew. She then went on to tell me that a mutual friend of ours had gone to see the people selling said stolen goods, after trying stealth tactics to retrieve the cameras, he came clean and simply asked the ‘seller’ to give back a SIM card with important photos on it. He would think about it, the thief said. So it goes.
I cannot comprehend how people get through life without reading fiction. Yesterday, after the outlandish happenings and news of happenings had come to an end, I was able to pin it down as a Vonnegut kind of day. Nothing else to do but go to bed, and stoically face another morning. Novels remind me that I’m not alone in this world. Unlike non-fiction where people are telling me how I should live, fiction offers me a view of lives lived by others. There is nothing so encouraging as being able to recall a story of someone else’s suffering, joy, or gong show life, and think, “Hey, me too!”
What book do you have on hand right now? I hope it’s something worthy of your spare minutes. No spare minutes? Liar. Read, people! It’s what Jesus would do.