I believe in taking a book with me everywhere I go. Everywhere. It is just that simple.
I believe in literature; what it does and what it is. The ragged front cover, the dog-eared pages that hold not only my place but also memorable moments and particular places in time; the ink, the underlined passages, and the ragged back cover that serves as not only the exit, but as a place I know I will return to again and again. I have always believed in books, and feel compelled to complete the relationship—to pay the book back by keeping it in close proximity, and yet as far away from the bookshelf as possible. To let it have as much influence on the world around it, as it had on me. To break it in, or to prevent the immensity of its words from sitting around too long, unread. To let it clutter up my space, no matter where I am, and to allow prying eyes to steal glances at obscure titles, and a simple man engaged in a sacred practice.
I believe in the battered paperback, crammed into my back pocket, crushed beneath my weight upon the park bench, the bus stop, the curb. I believe in taking a book with me everywhere I go. Slim editions in my sport-coat pocket, wedged between the car seat, packed with my camping gear, and in the garage above the workbench; I believe in taking a book with me everywhere I go.
As far back as I can remember I’ve kept books close. Not only does this allow me solace, or a continuance of pleasure throughout a menial task, or even the transcendence so needed during those delving dentist office days, but I believe that by taking books everywhere and anywhere, I have the opportunity to bring people closer to them. For every restaurant, bus station, gym, laundry mat, drab party (horrible, I know), or plush plot of park-space, there have been opportunities for me to share John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” Updike’s “Still of Some Use,” Raymond Carver’s Where Water Comes Together With Other Water, Hemingway’s “The Light of the World,” or Amy Hempel’s At The Gates of the Animal Kingdom. And these are never selections pulled from a soapbox, as if I am some wild-eyed man in a sandwich-board declaring that the end is near. No, these titles have been the topics of conversation, the seeds of inquiry, and most of which are authors or texts people are unfortunately unfamiliar with. Perhaps this is the ever-present teacher within me, or perhaps the ever-present student.
All of this is what leads me to shopping markets with Twain ominously holstered beneath my rain slicker, or proudly displaying a cumbersome stack of books upon my desk, that first day of school, declaring, “So this is what I’ve read over the summer, how about you?” I try to engage not only my own students, but the world, in a dialogue about literature, character, story, theme, and personal interpretation. This constant alliance between life and literature is what I bring into the classroom every day, because what I teach is what I am, and I want my students to know that. I want the world to know about John Cheever, about Chapter 34 of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and about Denis Johnson. I believe in presenting the challenge, pushing the proverbial envelope as to where books can go—where they can travel—not just where they can take you.
I believe in taking a book with me everywhere I go. Maybe it is some strange form of dependency, perhaps it is born out of a fear that print is somehow falling off. Maybe it is to model what I think is good behavior, maybe to strike up interesting conversation in order to both learn and teach, or maybe books serve as my own exotic day-planner, the string around my finger. Either way, it is what I have always done, and I will continue to be the one at the oak rail of the local pub, peanuts in the left hand, and Raymond Carver in the right.
I believe in taking a book with me everywhere I go.