Friday, November 22, 2013

Connect with a Good Book

Last night I went to a play about Connecting. Okay, so it was actually a play centered around books. About reading. About hardcover, old, second hand books and a woman who spent over 20 years corresponding with a bookshop owner and staff in England. The play was "84 Charring Cross" and it was directed by a dear friend of mine at a local community theatre about 25 minutes from my home. But the underlying theme of this play is about Connecting.

It's a true story about a woman named Helene Hanff from NYC and a Brit named Frank Doel. She wrote to him requesting books. He sent them to her. And though they never met, they became friends, bound together by a passion for books.

Before the play began, I read the bios of the cast and crew. Each of them identified their favorite books. Some of them read them over and over again -- like comfort food. I found myself intrigued by their choices ... by what appeals to them and their imaginations. And I found myself pondering my favorite books and why they stand out in my mind.

All this from a play. As the actress spoke her lines, requesting different books and describing their textures and pages when they arrived, I found myself aching to hold such a treasure in my hand. Escape into those pages and find myself transported into other lives. Go on adventures and travel to places I've not yet explored.

You see, I love books. I have favorites. For me, books reflect my mood and my selection is entirely emotional. I like recommendations. I am fascinated by learning and making discoveries I might not have found had it not been for the advice of another. In fact, one of my favorite reads was found completely by accident ... I saw it sitting in a friend's knitting bag and was intrigued. I went to the library immediately and pulled it from the shelf in a kind of awe. And I have since recommended it to many other friends who have been transported in those pages.

Unlike Helene, I prefer fiction, though I am trying to expand my scope by reading outside my normal comfort zone with two non-fiction books currently in process. But I cannot wait to cozy up with Elizabeth Bennett and watch her discover the truth of her own Pride & Prejudice. I rage at Catherine and Heathcliff on Wuthering Heights. I cry with Mrs. de Winter as she tries to find her way in the shadow of Rebecca. Oh ... I recently traveled on an unforgettable adventure in Africa with the help of Deanna Raybourn's Splendor in the Grass ... discovering a passion for Whitman along the way. I met Angels with Lauren Kate's Fallen series and reveled in magic with Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches ... something I have enjoyed with Harry Potter and am continuing to explore with Emily Croy Barker's new fascinating read (in which I'm currently immersed) A Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic.

I have to admit a passion for Egypt that began with Allen Drury's God Against Gods and Return to Thebes and was further expounded in my travels there with Amelia Peabody, thanks to Elizabeth Peters. And my mind races as I remember nearly twenty books of adventures in Shannara guided by Terry Brooks and the drama of possible futures with The Hunger Games, The Selection and the Delirium books. Kate Morton's Forgotten Garden, the discovery in that knitting bag, has led me on numerous trips ... including a read I could hardly put down called The Distant Hours. And I thank Diana Gabaldon and Susanna Keasley for fueling my quest to find a way to create a Time Travel portal myself.

But that all began with Alice and her trip down a Rabbit Hole and then into the Looking Glass. That book remains my favorite ... for all its nonsense it launched a quest into the unlimited nature of my imagination. It continued with Dorothy and her many travels to Oz. With Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars (I'm reading book 3 now!) With Julie Andrews and Wangdoodleland and Jane Langston's Diamond in the Window, both of which I introduced to my kids and re-read regularly myself. I have been dreaming of discovering such doorways into my books and dreams for decades.

But I digress. I began by saying how the play I saw was truly about connecting. Books connect us. Stories draw us together. We all seek a good story. If you are like me, you long for adventure and surprises. Perhaps you too are curious about what you might find around the corner ... through the Looking Glass. A book will take you on an adventure and connect you to things that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google+ can never facilitate.

A book can become a conversation piece ... a discussion over coffee, or in Helene and Frank's case, a series of letters that connected them across an ocean and created a deeper friendship than either of them may have realized at the time.  My friend who directed it helped connect these actors to each other ... and bring the story to life to connect with an audience. An audience who sighed and laughed and was saddened when it realized Frank died before Helene could get to London and meet him face to face.

The story connected us all. Engaged us in a way stories have a tendency to do. In a way television cannot and all the gadgets and apps in the world will never be savvy or smart enough to do.

My children read. I raised them to love books. My son prefers to read on his iPad. My daughter has several books "in process." Just like me. My books are stacked on my nightstand and beside my chair in the sunroom -- my place of escape -- near a cozy blanket. I have a Nook as well that I love to use especially at night and take places when I travel, since I never know what might appeal to me at the time. I have old books and new books. Paperbacks and hardcovers. I continually seek recommendations because the books you read fuel the conversations we can have later. They teach me things. Give me new information and ways to relate to the people around me. The connection between the book and me evolves into the connection with you and me. And I revel in it.

So when I escape into a good book, I'm connecting with people I don't know yet and old friends too. And I'm going to connect with you too. Never discount the power of a book. It brought Helene and Frank together across an ocean. It can bring us together across a table.
                                                                                                                     -- Jenni