A Girl Who Reads

Several months ago, during the winter (seems so long ago as I write in the early morning hours of what will prove to be another 100+ degree day), I sat with my girlfriend, and we both quietly read our Facebook walls. I stumbled upon a lovely essay called “Date a Girl Who Reads,” and I found it applicable enough to my own life that I read it out loud to Amanda. Maybe I hoped to show her some part of myself, a consensus of my readerly personality. Perhaps it was a warning. Or a promise. She had not seen the reader me yet – but that day was coming.

Amanda and I went to the beach together in May, a getaway that we both needed. When I go to the beach, I like to lay in the sun, read, and fall asleep. And when I wake up, I like to turn over, read more, and fall asleep again. I had these big plans for reading on the beach. Did I do it? No. I lay there and chatted with Amanda. We watched crabs scuttle around us, sparring with each other for mounds of sand to hide in and behind. We stared out into the ocean and watched dolphins crest in the deeper waters. We dozed. But there was no reading.

I have always been a girl who reads. My mom bought me Sweet Valley Kids books when I was little, and from there, the habit grew. I remember one of the periods of time when we were attending church regularly as a child. I found church so boring. (I was eight. I wasn’t the pastor’s target audience.) My mom had recently bought me a copy of Alice in Wonderland, so when the sermon started, I concealed the book behind my Bible and read about Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole until my mom noticed and told me to put the book down and pay attention.

There is one quote from “Date A Girl Who Reads” that I felt particularly compelled to share with Amanda, so she would understand what was coming:

When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

I can recall books in which this has happened, usually in the final fifty pages:  The Joy Luck Club; Gone with the Wind; The Time Traveler’s Wife. I can add to this list, now, Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini. She didn’t even wait until the end of the book to make me weep profusely; she got me in the middle. Yesterday, as I read about the painful period she was going through, one occurrence happened that knocked the wind out of me. And before I knew it, I was curled up in my bed, a tight little ball of girl, crying as if it was happening to me and not the author.

I recounted the story to Amanda later. Perhaps in a continued effort to warn her that I am a girl who reads. I know she knows this; she’s seen me read often. There’s always a book in my purse, and if I’m given ten minutes to wait for her to do something before we can leave the house or watch TV, I will pull out my book and read quietly, curled up with the cat in my lap. But I want her to know the full implications of these readerly habits:  I’m a girl who willingly suspends disbelief, who falls in love with characters, who can’t sleep at night, wanting to read more even though my eyes are so tired. If there’s 100 pages left at 10:00 at night, I might just go for it. Those are likely the books that will leave me weeping at midnight over the final pages. I’m a girl who reads.

What books have made you stay up past bedtime or cry your literary eyes out?

For Fun

9 thoughts on “A Girl Who Reads

  1. I’m more of a short story reader and there are stories I return to time and again and crying often starts early on. I suppose these are tears of anticipation because I already know how the story turns out. I can think of three stories in particular that affect me this way.

    “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
    “A Small Good Thing” by Raymond Carver
    “Majorette” by Lauren Groff

    Your post reminds me of something one of my teachers once said: “I’m looking for stories that break my heart.”

    1. I think I’ve had teachers say that to me as well. I’ve actually not read any of those stories, so they’re ones I’ll need to add to my list. “Letter to Harvey Milk” by Leslea Newman and “Palisades” by Antonya Nelson both made me cry for very different reasons.

      1. Thanks for the recommendations. I just ordered “Letter to Harvey Milk” and Antonya Nelson’s “Female Trouble” (which includes “Palisades”) from my local library and I look forward to reading them. I’ve never heard of Leslea Newman but I’m a big fan of Antonya Nelson and I don’t know how I’ve missed “Female Trouble” and, “Palisades.” I mentioned the three stories I return to time and again but of the three, I must say that my favorites are the Baldwin and Carver and if I had to pick a “desert island” story and my choices were between Baldwin and Carver, I’d have to pick the Raymond Carver story which I was surprised to find in its entirety online. You can check it out at http://christchurchlr.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/A-Small-Good-Thing.pdf BTW, I also really enjoyed your post about Brandi Carlile and I have to agree that I am not fond of standing at concerts but I have attended more than a few great concerts at stand only venues even though I would have dearly loved to have been sitting in a nice comfortable theater seat. Hell, even a hard metal folding chair might have been nice. But the music always made the standing worthwhile.

      2. Thanks for the solidarity! I have promised myself that Brandi Carlile gets one standing-room-only concert from me. From now on, I need a seat. I hope you enjoy Letter to Harvey Milk and Female Trouble. I enjoy Antonya Nelson’s work overall; she’s amazing. In Leslea Newman’s collection, I really find that Letter to Harvey Milk is the best one; the others are trying perhaps a little too hard to be LGBT stories. But Letter to Harvey Milk is just seamless and lovely, and surprisingly, my students really took to it in my Intro to Lit class!

  2. In addition to the stories I mentioned earlier, I just thought of a novel that kicked me in the gut and made me cry as it was coming to an end: The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

  3. I tend to cry lots during movies and the like, but there aren’t many books that make me cry. Off the top of my head, I remember that “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer, and the 6th and 7th Harry Potter books made me cry.

  4. I’m a romance novels buff..:) It’s really hard to regulate that at night and if the book is interesting, sometimes I’ll look up and it’s four o’clock in the morning and I have to be awake at six o’clock.
    Stories that affected me…hmm..so many, but memorable ones were

    by Lisa Appignanesi
    – A good woman
    – The things we do for love

    Awesome post as always.

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