Sunday, October 24, 2010

Literary Jones

Yesterday, 3:30 pm:

My intention was to just read maybe 10 pages while I enjoyed my lunch. But 10 turned to 15 and I wasn't done yet. After lunch was consumed, I retired to the restaurant's outside seating on a glorious sunny, yet breezy day. Finding just enough shade, I settled in, feet propped up for what I told myself would only be five more pages-just to the end of the chapter.

I'm on page 106 of Ntozake Shange's Some Sing, Some Cry, a succulent and mammoth - 576 page - multigenerational novel about a recently emancipated family in Charleston, South Carolina. The writing has such depth and the characters are so rich that I'm intellectually full and emotionally drained after a chapter or two. If I read too much, I'm almost upset because I feel greedy about devouring the heart-wrenching and satisfying prose.

I mean there's a meeting in the church where Denmark Vesey planned his revolution and a book party for Ida B. Wells at the home of a "high-toned," upper crust black society hostess, where conversation is about the literacy poll tax and the loss of black senators at the end of Reconstruction. All this is set amid the horrifying brutality against my ancestors, the tracing of the roots of black music from spirituals to jazz, and at this point in the book, the touching story of a berry-skinned talented seamstress conflicted about her suitors from different classes and her desires for acceptance into the mulatto world. For a lit chick, who's drawn to many things activist, historical, musical and based in the richness of people of color, well, Shange's book is just irresistible.

And I only get to check in with these friends, these adopted family members, these well-written characters like once every 10 days or so. At this rate I probably won't finish the book until this time next year.

So 15 pages turned into 20 and it wasn't until I'd gone past 30 and realized an hour had slipped by that the guilts finally got me. It's Saturday. My daughter is with her father. And my To Do list is like a toilet paper roll long. The times of lingering in a park, a cafe, or the bed and reading for fun until my eyes were bleary is so long gone. I pray it returns in about 15 years when my baby enters college.

I did manage to press on, intent to check things off my list. I'd already accomplished one - made her soccer game this morning. Now off to a bookstore, where I'd work on some overdue magazine assignments, write pitches for more, and continue research for the infernal elementary school search I launched in the fall.

But any reader-writer-literary fiend knows that bookstores are more seductive than lovers. I have no idea what I was thinking. I tried to put blinders on and make my way directly to a comfy chair where I could get straight to work. I didn't even stop for my usual coffee with the raspberry flavoring.

I'd put myself in a trick bag. Of all the book displays to be sidetracked by, the one labeled "Required School Reading," diverted me from my path. As I perused the fare, authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Homer, Toni Morrison, Judy Blume, Zora Neale Hurston, and C.S. Lewis transported me back to a time when reading was required - and I SURE didn't mind.

I was almost giddy thinking of how I'd re-read all these favorites - the one's that spurred my imagination and creativity and laid the foundation for my chosen career - and the new classics when my daughter had to read them in school. I got so caught up that I whipped out my cell phone and started taking photos of the books I loved and those I'd heard about and thought I'd love.

I pray to God all the time that my child enjoys reading as much or more than - if that's even possible - I do. She can enjoy other stuff, too. That is totally fine, Lord. But please God, let her find the endless joy that is good story telling. Pardon me for that quick prayer, but I had to get it in. Because the To Do list is calling.

And I'm getting back on it. Right. Now.

In five more minutes....

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