Every weekend my husband and I head off to the bookstore . . . It’s a crucial aspect of my mental health regimen. Coffee and books. There are plenty of studies out there to confirm my position on the positive effects of coffee and bookstores, at least that’s what I told my husband. I know I’ve read it somewhere.
The bookstore for me is a sanctuary of solace. Coffee is the elixir of life. Barnes and Noble is my Shangri-la. Sometimes though, my experience is bittered, polluted in this case, by other people who obviously do not understand bookstore behavior.
My afternoon started off with promise, with a bit of bliss even. I roamed the aisles, scanning tables and shelves, making mental notes of what treasures lay scattered about as I made my way toward the Sci-Fi section. I’d barely began reading the synopsis of Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle when I sensed a disturbance settling uncomfortably around me.
I looked up to see a man quickly rounding the corner at the end of the aisle when it hit me. The smell. The god-awful, putrescent stench of whatever fowl food was decaying within his inner workings filled the air about me. My eyes began to burn. I held my breath lest it enter my lungs and spread throughout my respiratory system, making me quickly and surely dead within a matter of moments.
I fled as quickly as I could, taking what I thought would be refuge in Romance, but when I dared begin to fill my lungs with air I realized it wasn’t over. Weakened by lack of oxygen I thought I was done for, but the sheer will to survive gave me strength enough to continue. Teen Fiction was the next aisle over, I was sure I’d be safe there, I was wrong.
I am fairly certain that man was in need of medical attention.
I heard rumblings from Fiction and Literature and sure enough, there were other survivors, huddled together for comfort.
From there, I quickly made my way to the Starbucks Cafe at the opposite end of the store where my husband sat, flipping through a magazine while sipping a venti iced coffee with half and half and classic sweetener.
I must have looked dreadful after my harrowing experience, but he was kind enough not to mention it. I told him what happened through gasping breaths. He raised one eyebrow, told me to stop being melodramatic, and went back to the latest issue of Hot Rod magazine. If he’d been there, he wouldn’t have been so flippant about it.
Anyway, I composed myself and ventured back out into the stacks, keeping an eye out for that flatulent fiend, thankfully, I didn’t see him. He must have fled the scene of the crime. He dropped that bomb and ran. Monster.
I made my way to the restroom for a bit of freshening up. Maybe I was being silly washing my face and my arms and my hands as thoroughly as I did, but I’d just been exposed to a toxic cloud of gas. I didn’t want to take any chances. Of course, all that running water made me need to pee. I waited for a stall to open. When one did, a little boy skipped out, followed by his mother.
When I shouldered the door open I was horrified. Pee. Everywhere. How? Why? Was mom watching videos on her fricking phone while her little angel was painting the place with piss?
Now, I raised three boys, I know what can happen in the restroom, but seriously?
I backed out and waited for the next one to open. A well dressed woman exited, her smile lulled me into a false sense of security. You know what I saw? Pee! Drips and dribbles of pee on the seat. What the hell? It wasn’t just one or two either, it was on each side and the back. Again, how? Why? You might be wondering how I know it was pee, you might be thinking it could have been spray from the flush. No. She clearly needs to up her water intake. It was grown-ass woman pee.
I decided to hold it.
Determined to enjoy what time I had left before my bladder forced an end to my bookstore day, I again composed myself and decided to head over to Biographies, I never made it that far. See, the direction I was traveling took me past the children’s books, I wasn’t two steps in front of the entrance when I was body slammed by a runaway kid, who was followed by another runaway kid who was followed by an agitated mom who told me to watch where I was going.
Despite everything, I somehow managed to make it to the register with two books. My bladder held until a suitable restroom could be found. While it wasn’t the best bookstore day, it wasn’t the worst either. Actually, it was. It was the worst bookstore day ever and I think I’m deserving of a do-over.
A plea to my fellow humans . . .
If you can, please hold your farts until you’ve found a suitably airy and unoccupied space to release them. An empty aisle in a bookstore does not fit that criteria, the restroom will work, exiting the building will work. If possible, please refrain from eating gas inducing food items prior to entering a public space.
Moms, from one mom to another, for the love of all things not disgusting, please teach your young boys to aim. Toilets were designed with a great big hole filled with water, that is where the pee goes. If they do happen to miss, these things happen, please clean that nastiness up.
Ladies, I can’t believe I even have to ask, please stop dribbling piss on toilet seats. What are you even doing? Use the damn toilet seat protectors, hover if you must, but geez, don’t piss all over the seat and walk away. That’s just nasty.
Moms, I know kids can get rambunctious, especially in public, but if you can’t keep them from running and screaming and turning mischief into mayhem outside of your home, take them to the fricking park. Teach them to behave for goodness sake, I managed it, so can you.
Anyone who knows me, even just a little, knows I love books. Lots of folks love books, I hear ya, but I really love them. More than you do, don’t argue.
Books are so much more than possessions, they’re my friends, always have been, always will be. Books soothe my soul, they embrace me . . . words come to life and wrap themselves around my heart.
The best gift I can receive is a book. I wouldn’t say no to money though. Or coffee.
So the other day, an unexpected package arrived at my home, it was from a beautiful friend of my mother’s, a woman I’ve admired and respected for many years. I thank God for the friendship between her and my mother. To say I was surprised and excited and oh-so-curious as to what could possibly be in that yellow envelope would be an understatement.
Guess what it was . . . you guessed books, right? Because if you guessed books you were totally right!
Now, this is awesome for several reasons:
#2 No one sends me anything
#3 They were from an amazing human
#4 They are the first books of their kind in my library
I read a lot of books in all kinds of genres except one, romance. I’m not even going to get into it. I kind of, sort of cannot stomach romance novels.
*please, no defense of romance novels needed, if you love them, I think it’s awesome. I like historical biographies and Shakespeare and sci-fi, and those kind of books might not be your thing, but we’re both reading and that’s pretty cool.
Now, guess what these new gems I just got are? Go ahead, guess. Are you thinking romance? If you are, you got it! Romance novels delivered direct to me. But these aren’t romance novels like I’ve ever seen before, these are amazing.
(bet ya didn’t see that coming)
Seriously, the moment I saw them I knew I was going to love them. The covers alone are delightful.
I learned something too, there is a huge, monumental difference in romance novels from the 1920s and 30s and those taking up shelf space today.
There’s an innocence to them most of the world tossed to the wayside long ago. They are lovely and a little cheesy and I am looking forward to stepping inside and reading every wonderful word.
“Must a man pay a woman not to live with him, even though she prefers another man?”
This one is all about love and money and jealousy and the six lives controlled by them.
“Her voice shook a little, but her eyes were gallant enough. Her worst enemy would have pitied her. She had been a fool, a blind, grasping, avaricious fool. She had wanted her cake, and she had eaten it too. But it turned to ashes in her mouth. Now she was paying. But then, she had paid all along – in terror, in cowardice, in the learning of bitter wisdom.”
“Ellen was cool and impersonal in helping poor girls who had been betrayed – until one of them mentioned her fiancé’s name.”
Ellen Bartlett is a young nurse with a bit of a cynical outlook on love, after all, she tends to young women who have been hurt and betrayed by men. Jim loves her, but then she meets Frank and falls in love with him instead. Ellen’s resolve and her sense of duty is put to the test when she asks one of the girls to name the man who hurt her . . .
“In her room she sat down and regarded herself blindly in the mirror. Here were her eyes, her gray eyes, that wavered and fell before her own regard. Here was the red, shaken mouth which Frank had made his own . . .”
“Rex Brandon, passionate lover on the screen, “turned on the heat” to win the girl in love with the director who had made him famous.”
Starr Thayle, former secretary to an (engaged) movie director she’d fallen in love with, quit her job and became a gossip columnist. That’s when married Rex Brandon, a steamy on-screen lover came into the picture. Ellen hates him, her column on him got her fired. Then more unexpected surprises, her former boss actually falls in love with her, and so does Rex! The other two women in the mix have some surprises of their own.
“Starr fought her breath. Like all other girls share had always dreamt of someday becoming a famous star. But that dream, she thought, was too fantastic. Like a sensible girl she had turned her back on it. But here was Stephen offering her a part of that very dream on a silver platter.”
Now , if you’ll excuse me . . . 886 pages of vintage romance await me.
I read. A lot. It’s therapeutical and just about anyone who really knows me will readily attest to my need for therapeutic intervention. Some of the greatest minds to have ever put pen to a page have lent their wisdoms and talents to greatly benefit my physical and mental well-being. My blood pressure regulates, my blood sugars lower, and my anxieties are quelled when I sit with a book in my hand.
I’ve tried other forms of treatment. I’ve driven to offices in multi-storied medical centers or cozy little cottage-like buildings and sat upon soft leather chairs, scratchy linen covered sofas, or hard plastic chairs and stared across the room at men and women with their achievements and accolades in gilded frames upon their walls, listening, or at least trying to listen, to their assessments and suggestions. They almost always sent me away with prescriptions and referrals, some of which I tried, some of which were necessary, but none of them proffered any relief without medicinal, chemical or what I felt, intrusive aide.
So with the exception of those doctors and specialists I needed to control the physical aspects of my healthcare, I stopped driving to their offices. I stopped seeking assistance in the form of degreed professionals and I sat in my own cozy, softly covered chair in my own lovely living room or beneath the soothing sun beaming down upon my porch and began to read. Reading was nothing new, I’ve devoured books throughout my life, but somehow I had forgotten the healing power of simply relaxing and drifting into another world and losing myself, as well as my worries and fears and whatever ailments are ailing me, between the covers of a book.
Some days, some weeks and months, my need is greater than others. My family often jokes that when I am on a reading bender, it means I’m crazier than usual, and often that is true. Sometimes though, I read simply for the joy of reading. Either way, it benefits me and fills a need within me.
In January I decided I’d keep track of the books I’ve read for the year. I also decided I’d write up a little review for each of them, but after reading one I’d grab another, and then another and the reviews were forgotten. I’m determined to do it still, but I have to finish my current selection first . . . we’ll see what happens.
Maybe my Books I’ve Read list will one day become a Books to be Read for my children and grandchildren and they will begin their own list for future generations of readers. I like the thought of that.
My list thus far is varied and random, as it will always be – Some months the number is higher, some lower. I’m curious to see the picture my monthly page count paints as a reflection upon the status of my state of mind over time.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 247 pages
The Tragedy of Mr. Morn by Vladimir Nabokov – 144 pages
Iremonger, Heap House by Edward Carey – 405 pages
Foulsham, Heap House by Edward Carey – 324 pages
Lungdon, Heap House by Edward Carey – 502 pages
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – 293 pages
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Expury – 96 pages
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle – 245 pages
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury – 275 pages
Coraline by Neil Gaiman – 160 pages
The Asylum Novellas by Madeleine Roux – 337 pages
Blindness by Jose Saramago – 326 pages
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – 357 pages
The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Green – 267 pages
The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov – 256 pages
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy – 53 pages
Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut – 251 pages
The Storied life of A.J. Fikry by Gabriella Zevin – 267 pages
How to Think Like daVinci by Daniel Smith – 186 pages
Candide by Voltaire – 130 pages
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – 333 pages
The Man Who Made Lists, Love, death, madness & the creation of Roget’s Thesaurus by Joshua Kendall – 294 pages
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King – 495 pages
Alice by Christina Henry – 291 pages
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame Smith – 317 pages
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick – 244 pages
Midway into March now and I have a growing stack of books to add to the list and beautifully filled shelves of books waiting to be read. I think my therapy is going well . . .
I have a confession to make . . . I self-medicate.
My addiction, and I readily admit it to be one, is relatively harmless. Granted, it sometimes interferes with my daily activities like keeping up with housework and feeding my family, but I manage and they accept and expect certain delays when I’m having a particularly rough patch and my need to self soothe is great.
I suppose I should begin with an explanation – the reasons I do what I do. I have spent many years in the clutches of an anxiety disorder. I battle with chronic pain and fight Diabetes and brain fog. I’m tired, so very, very tired. I’m entering year my 27th year of parenting, two of my four amazing children are autistic blessings (one with the added excitement of Bipolar), and still require a bit more assistance and guidance than most young men their age.
Sometimes I find myself in need of something more than patience and happy thoughts and all the other blah, blah, blahs we feed our psyche with, and I found a way to fulfill that need. Truthfully, I found it when I was younger than most, so it has always been a go-to of sorts for me. Honestly, while it does indeed help me deal with the not so easy parts of life, it enhances the good parts as well. It can be expensive, but I’ve found certain places where the cost is reasonable, though I confess to opting for the pricier options perhaps a bit too often. My favorite dealer is about ten miles from home, I usually go every Sunday to stock up for the week.
When (for lack of a better term) I get my * fix *, I am transported and transcended into a reality entirely different from my own – the one I find the need to escape now and then, the reality where anxiety and pain and frustration thrives. I find peace and comfort and tranquility in the altered state of consciousness I drift peacefully into when I take refuge in another world that opens itself up to embrace me when I come to the door and knock.
Hours can pass, sometimes entire days and nights in that magical place. When one journey ends and I return to my own plane of existence, I oftentimes hastily return, not yet ready to face it all. Days can be lost, but the journey is so pleasant. I always come back – eventually, though the thoughts of my return are never far from the forefront of my mind.
I wish I could describe with even some amount of accuracy and clarity what I experience each time I cross over into whatever place it is I go, but each time is different than the last. I never know what awaits me, sometimes it’s simply glorious, sometimes, though not often because I am quite careful to choose my product carefully, I am left disappointed and greedily reach for more to fulfill the still burning need within me.
I don’t want to give the impression that I live life in an always altered state. I do all the things, well, many of the things everyone else does. I run errands, (I do partake while outside of my home quite often, never while driving of course), I watch television, (sometimes my attentions are divided, but I am able to maintain my focus even though part of me has one foot on the other side of that door), I laugh and talk with my children, sometimes they join me and we all sit together, separated only by the unique experience taking place within each of us. They don’t indulge nearly as much as I do, however. My husband abstains almost entirely, though I do try to entice him with tales of my own experiences. It doesn’t affect him the way it does me though.
I realize that my particular need and how I choose to satisfy it is not for everyone. There are those who cannot understand why I do it, or at least why I do it so often. For them, once a month or once every few months is enough. I know there are those who don’t even go near it. Personally, I think their lives, their hearts, and their minds would be better if they did. But, to each their own as they say. I’ll not stand in judgment of them, and hope they’ll not judge me.
The fact is, without this outlet – this relief – I might very well lose my mind. I truly believe, in fact, I know, it helps me focus, keeps my mind sharp and my heart calm.
You may be wondering what my particular drug of choice might be . . . it’s books. Glorious, wonderful, beautiful books. Words, words, and more words. I can’t get enough of them. New words, old words, classics, new authors, short books, long books, serious books, scary books, sci-fi, fantasy, memoir, biographies, auto-biographies, essays, poetry, research, history, inspirational, funny, etc., etc., etc..
There is sufficient enough research compiled to conclude that reading is akin to downing a wonder-drug of sorts. It aides in stress relief, sleep, memory, and focus – basically, all the good stuff we want to maintain.
“Reading reduced stress levels by 68 per cent, said cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis. Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, he found. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started. Listening to music reduced the levels by 61 per cent, having a cup of tea or coffee lowered them by 54 per cent and taking a walk by 42 percent.” The Telegraph
“After reading a novel, actual changes linger in the brain, at least for a few days,” The Washington Post
“Neurological researchers have spent years studying the impact of books on the brain. They’ve identified a compelling link between the act of chomping through a novel and enhanced cognitive ability. Reading, it transpires, has a profound effect on mental agility, the memory and our aptitude for imagination and compassion. It can also help to alleviate stress and aid sleep. Stylist
“Snuggling up with a good read tamps down levels of unhealthy stress hormones such as cortisol,” Readers Digest
”In fact, the practice of using books, poetry and other written words as a form of therapy has helped humans for centuries. Fiction is a uniquely powerful way to understand others, tap into creativity and exercise your brain.” bufferopen
“Reading for pleasure in general can also help prevent conditions such as stress, depression, and dementia,” says Wilkinson. “Research has shown that people who read for pleasure regularly report fewer feelings of stress and depression than non-readers.” “ . . .people who read books regularly “are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile.” A recent survey of 1,500 adult readers found that 76% of them said that reading improves their life and helps make them feel good.” Fast Company
Now – grab a book for your body, mind, and soul and slip into another world for a spell – I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
Yesterday I felt the need for a bit of therapeutic wandering, the best, and most therapeutic, wandering – for me, is most oft found in the undertaking of extensive, exploratory journeys where I dawdle, gander, meander, and mosey my way through the well-lit aisles of a bookstore. Betwixt the rows and tables and displays of beautifully bound words, my wandering turns to wonder, and my woes slowly fall like gently drifting autumn leaves. I’m left with unencumbered branches, quivering in anticipation of new growth.
Basically, I was feeling restless and sweet talked my husband into an afternoon at Barnes & Noble. By sweet talk, I mean I promised we could go to Home Depot afterward. That’s sweet of me, no? I think it’s sweet.
As soon as I walked through the doors, the smell of adventure, knowledge, and freshly brewed coffee began to peel away the layers of pent-up annoyances I’d been collecting like a suit of armor throughout the week, and as I passed the magazine racks, I began to feel like Julie Andrews on a mountain top instead of Quasimodo stuck in a bell tower. The bookstore is a magical place. I refrained from singing this time, it makes people think I’m coo-coo for cocoa puffs. I’m quite misunderstood.
One of my favorite things about the bookstore, aside from the obvious – books, books, and more books, is that I almost always leave with a story of my own to tell. I love to watch almost as much as I love to read. Everything and everyone. I silently watch and listen to those around me and collect their micro-stories in my mind, sometimes I keep them until they are forgotten or replaced, sometimes I write them down. There may be a book idea in there somewhere.
It was a little boy who caught my attention yesterday. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, adorable little thing with dark eyes framed with eyelashes some women would gladly give an appendage for, dark hair, an impish little smile and an armful of books. He was sporting a Captain America t-shirt, perfectly cuffed Levi’s, and a pair of red Converse sneakers, he looked liked an adorable force to be reckoned with. He stood there, trying to maintain his grip on the treasures he’d found when his dad rounded the corner.
“Did you pick one yet?” Dad looked a little nervous, at first I thought this was odd. Turned out he was right to be a little apprehensive, he’d obviously been in this spot before. While son was dressed for a bookstore battle of epic proportions, Dad’s faded Bass Pro Shop tee and checkered shorts made him look like an already defeated casualty.
“One? Uh, no. I’ve got four.” This kid had a warrior’s stance, he was ready for battle before Dad even knew there was going to a skirmish. Then again, I think Dad knew exactly what awaited him when his little man walked through the doors of that bookstore, I don’t think he had much of a defense strategy planned out though.
“We talked about this already, one today.”
“I know, and this is a series, so it counts as one, Dad.”
“They’re $15 each! One!”
“That doesn’t even make sense, I’ll be done with one book by like tomorrow probably, and then we’ll just have to come back.”
“How about we get one or none?”
That precious little book hoarder showed no fear in the face of this threat. If anything, he looked more determined, if not a little more than annoyed.
He kept a firm grip on the books, and a firmer grip on his resolve.
He wasn’t going to back down. He knew he needed those books.
“Sure Dad. If the complete and utter ruination of my entire life is your end goal for today, then we’ll go with one.”
Dad looked like he’d taken a shot to the neck. This kid was good. Did I mention he couldn’t have been more than eight years old? I love kids who read, they know how to use words.
Then he fired the final shot, “Besides, Mom said I could get them, so . . .”
Dad defeated, books in hand, little-reader-man left the battlefield and made a beeline for the register before Dad could figure out what had just hit him.
My day ended with a venti iced coffee, a new Stephen King book – The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and new gutters. I keep my promises and collected another story at the Home Depot, but I’m saving that one for later.
Proof I am a failed parent. I thought I was a good mother. I thought I raised them well and right and good, and then this happens. I don’t even know where I went wrong.
I am devastated.
They are animals, all of them. Well, at least one of them. I don’t know who did this, but I have a pretty good idea.
How could he? Why? WHY?
There is a pot on my books.
They put a pot atop my BOOKS!
A POT . . . on my BOOKS!
Works in progress...like me...
poetry & prose
"I realized that all these years, I had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck me under and drag me out to sea."
Praise the Lord ! Walking in God's Footsteps!
I read. I write. I create.
Author of The Shaping of an Angry Black Woman
Every word I write is a beat of my heart . . .
Every word I write is a beat of my heart . . .