It’s only happened to me once and I remember the experience so clearly after all these years. In my mind, I can see myself sitting in my comfortable chair hunched over a book, so consumed with it that I cannot stop. I read for three days, with a few hours of sleep in between; finally I finished the massive book. I remember just sitting and letting the feelings swirl around me. I can’t even tell you what it was, but in that instant I felt changed.
The book was “I Know This Much Is True,” by Wally Lamb. Honestly, it was the strangest book. There were flashbacks to Italy which were sometimes boring and confusing. Whatever it was—Wally weaved this tale so beautifully, it moved me. Just so you don’t think I’m crazy, the same thing happened to my sister. She loaned me the book, saying I could read it first because she was busy and it was a huge book. When I gave it back to her, I just said, “You have to read this.” She stayed up all night too and came out the other side—changed in some inexplicable way.
I’ve thought about reading it again, but I don’t want to erase that experience by reading the book with new eyes.
Today I picked up a book that has been sitting next to my bed for about two years. It was stacked with all the others that my heart longs to read, but my head wonders if I ever will. I collect books that catch my interest and add them to my collection, knowing when the time is right, I will read them. I had this one book on my shelf for five years, only to discover that it was not what I thought—it was wonderful and made me so happy. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it. I don’t even know if I believe in things like that.
“Olive Kitteridge” won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2008. It was on all the Top 10 lists of that year and I added it to my list; when I came across the paperback at a used book store, I grabbed it up, so excited with my good find. And so she sat.
I have read several thousand books in my life, but for the last two years I have struggled with serious inattention, which is likely health-related. I’ve hardly finished any of the dozens of books I have started to read. Yesterday, I was so happy because I finished a non-fiction book, reading a little every night until the story took hold of me. This morning I didn’t feel like reading online news, so I crawled back into my king-size bed, with my 14 book (I counted them) and my Kindle lying on my ex-husband’s side of the bed.
So there she was, Olive Kitteridge. It’s a short book, 270 pages; why not give it a try—see if I can get into it? This book is made up of 13 connected, chapter-length stories about the everyday minutia of the residents of a small coastal town in Maine. Olive Kitteridge is the common thread. The first story was a tad bit slow at first, but picked up and I thought it was interesting.
I was into the second or third paragraph of the next story when I knew this book was going to touch me deep. The stories are short, so the author uses words, remarkable sentences, and wrenching metaphor to paint the most exquisite human emotions.
Because the stories and characters are so diverse, I experienced the powerful nature of the lives of ordinary people; how someone can cross paths with another, changing them, sometimes without even knowing it. I felt sadness, the grips of marital bonds, happiness and a huge sense of thankfulness–knowing that beneath the most jaded of souls, kindness can find its way out when it is most needed.