The worst thing that ever happened to me happened when I was 17. I had moved out of my parents home (a good thing), gotten my own apartment (a good thing), and was supporting myself and going to school full time (very good things). I was young and in love(a good thing, though not as it turned out a forever good thing).
For the first time in the whole of my life I was happy and free. Free from the abusive household I grew up in, free of the demands of the people living in it, free of all the pain of all the years of my life. Life was good, I was happy.
Until the first time I went to the library after I moved out. It was a couple of months – I’d been busy with work, with school, with moving, with life.
Let me take a moment here to mention that I loved books like life itself when I was young – I devoured them like bread, lived at the library in the summers when I could get away from the house. Books were my comfort, my companionship, my escape, my window into a world better and kinder and fairer then the one I knew.
Until the first time I went to the library after I moved out, and walked through the familiar stacks unable to bring myself to touch a book. Finally I saw a title I knew, by an author I was familiar with, and felt a rush of safety. I picked a few books, all things I read before, and headed home, not really thinking about it.
It was the beginning of a terrible time in my life — the time I couldn’t read. It started slowly, with just a general nervousness about books I wasn’t familiar with. Soon whole genres gave me cold sweats, and then authors started going. First unfamiliar authors, even in genres I thought I was safe with. Then the familiar ones. Then even the intimates – the writers whose books I owned, whose work I followed and waited for the next book by — I couldn’t read them.
Even trying to pick up a book – even the most well loved familiar friend on my shelves – left me shaking and in tears. Actually sitting and reading was impossible — and this from a person who had been known to read while walking, who had for an ill-fated afternoon tried to figure out how to read while riding a bicycle.
It was gone. The deepest abiding pleasure and joy that I had ever known in my life evaporated between my fingers at the very beginning of what should have been the sweetest dawn of new life that could be imagined.
At this point I would love to be able to tell you what happened — how I underwent some hero’s quest of self inquiry and self discovery, and learned why I feared what had formerly comforted. It would be a pleasure to share how I rediscovered the passion and love I had for literature, and how books and reading are once again a deep and meaningful part of my life.
Except it hasn’t happened that way yet. I still get the shakes when I pick up a book by an author I’m unfamiliar with, I still find myself in tears sometimes, trying to sit and read Les Miserables, the book I read every month for three years when I was in high school. Bookstores I’ve recovered — they’re now more a refuge then a gauntlet, but public libraries still frighten me. I can’t go into one alone.
Amy commented on my entry about my 2007 goals for the BIW group I’m a part of that “It’s great to see you talking about reading.” It is great to be able to talk about reading.
This all, incidentally, is why you don’t see many book reviews on this blog.