Monday, July 18, 2011

Closets and Recollections

So I'm cleaning out my closets, and this time I swear I'm going to be ruthless. It doesn't matter how cute something looks on the hanger. For once, I'm going to accept the fact that...

...I never got around to buying a top to go with these pants, and what's more, I never will. matter how much I hope it won't, the red fleece sweater will always attract every dog hair within fifty miles.

...the '90s are never, ever coming back.

No rationalization. No denial. And it's working. The donation bags are getting full, my overstuffed drawers are breathing sighs of relief. Then...I get to the T-shirts.

I pull out this tank, squashed near the bottom of the drawer, and instantly I'm back in Italy. Hot blazing blue sky, turquoise water. White pebble beaches and crooked narrow streets. It was my first trip abroad. I was 22. That fall, I started...

...veterinary school, where I met... sweetheart. Yellowstone was our first road trip. Every night, we had to find a hill to park on so that we could roll-start the VW van the next morning. VW vans have crappy electrical systems. On the upside, every other VW driver on the road will wave to you.

After we graduated, my sweetheart moved to Kansas, while I drove down I-5 to my first veterinary job in...

...Mariposa, just outside Yosemite National Park. I made a wonderful friend, Marybeth, and we went to the county fair and I got this tee promoting Mariposa County's Division of Alcohol and Drug Programs. I have no idea why. Anyway, the butterfly is pretty.

From thousands of miles away, my sweetheart sent me an Indigo Girls song:

"To let this love survive would be the greatest gift we could give
Tell all the friends who think they're so together
That these are ghosts and mirages, these thoughts of fairer weather
Though it's storming out, I feel safe within the arms
Of love's discovery."

Not surprisingly, soon after that we moved to Tennessee together...

...where, among other things, we went to Indigo Girls concerts. And then...

One by one, I lay the T-shirts out. They're old. Most of them I haven't worn in years.
Get rid of them, the ruthless voice demands. They're just taking up space.

I smooth my hand over the worn fabric, the cracked designs. And then I fold them back up, one by one, and I nestle them back in the drawer.

Sometimes, the best memories aren't in photographs.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Summer of the Book

Memories of certain summers taste of certain books. These are the summers that held A Book so memorable, I can never think of one without the other. To reread a particular passage is to bring back the bright sweltering day I first read it. Where I was. What I was doing. The colors and flavors of that time.

Anna Karenina. I was between my first and second years of veterinary school, supporting myself as a lowly tech in a campus research lab. The work was beyond tedious--it involved counting lesions on microscopic sections of rat lung, section after section, hour after hour--and every free moment I had, I dove back into Tolstoy. I read Levin's marriage proposal to Kitty on a lunch break. I was more than captivated; I was transported. I felt for Anna, but Levin--Levin to me was real, more real than almost any other character I've ever met. I felt as though he drew breath next to me, with his passion and temper and terrible longings, and the battles he waged within himself about what it means to be a good man.

Middlemarch. Oh, Dorothea... while you were in Rome, stuck on a joyless honeymoon with that empty husk of a husband (really, darling, how could you?), we were on a road trip through the Carolinas. I broke my toe the day before we left. The doctor told me to stay off it or it wouldn't heal. Instead, I limped with my sweetheart through the Biltmore estate in Asheville and up the spiral stairs of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. We swam in the Atlantic, explored Fort Sumter, walked the Battery in Charleston. We were newly in love, learning each other day by day. I felt sorry that Dorothea (and poor Lydgate) hadn't chosen as wisely as we. (A bit smug, was I. About the toe, too. The doctor was right: it never did heal.)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. My agent had sold my first novel that spring. I spent the summer working like mad on revisions. Every afternoon, I took a short break in the backyard sun and immersed myself in Susanna Clarke's incredible imagination. The world she built is so rich in detail and nuance, its characters so alive, that reading it is like a master course in fiction writing. Not to mention it's funny and heartbreaking as hell.

A Suitable Boy. By now, I was blogging. I wrote a whole post about this one. Picked it up by chance, read the first couple of sentences, and was hooked. A Suitable Boy remains one of my top arguments for bookstores. I'd never heard of this book; browsing shelves is the only way I would have found this sprawling, gorgeous novel. I spent that summer in the dust and heat and rain of 1950s India, following the lives of four families, dozens of characters, coming back always to Lata Mehra as her mother seeks a suitable boy for her to marry. Sheer reading joy...which I couldn't possibly keep to myself. To date, I've made Vikram Seth fans out of five friends. All of whom gasped when they saw the 1,348 pages, and all of whom loved it as much as I did. We've had some passionate debates about the boy Lata finally chooses at the end. (I still say she made the right choice, Laura, I don't care how hard you argue.)

And this year? This is the summer of fantasy series. I grew up with fantasy novels, read them all through college. And then, for some reason, I just sort of stopped. Now I'm catching up with a vengeance. I just finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and just started A Clash of Kings, second in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin. HP and the Order of the Phoenix awaits, and then A Clash of Swords, and then... It won't stop with the books, either. Then it'll be the HP movies, and after that, Game of Thrones when it comes out on DVD... *rubbing hands in delicious anticipation*

What about you? What book is keeping you up nights this summer?

This post was inspired by Melissa over at Writing With Style, who asked, "What are you reading this summer?" Which got me thinking and writing. Thanks, Melissa!