I’d finished my first year of college and was visiting with my aunt, uncle and 9-year old cousin. My cousin was reading a novel when I arrived, so I asked her about it. She went on to tell me the story, detail by detail. When I asked how she knew it so well, she said that she’d already read it fifteen times.
My mouth fell open. I’ve reread a book or two in my time, but I can truthfully claim that I have never read a single published novel (this isn’t including the short hardcover books I read to my children over and over and over again) fifteen times. I qualified with “published” because as a writer, I’ve read my own novels (which haven’t yet been published) so many times, in so many variations that it is conceivable that I’ve read a single novel of my own making more than fifteen times.
I remember asking my cousin why she kept reading the same book over and over and she answered it as only a 9-year old can, “Because I like it. It’s a good book.”
This memory popped into my head last night as I was finishing up a novel (which I’d been reading for the last week or so) that had such an impact on me, from its structure to its content to its sense of style, that I felt a deep need to read the entire book again, immediately. I put it on my night table, intending to begin it again tonight.
I’ve loved books in the past but have never felt about a book the way I did as I was reading the final words on the last page of this one. I’ve had the feeling, though, in other circumstances. There once was a painting I saw while visiting a gallery in Naples, Florida. The painting resonated with me even though I couldn’t articulate why. There is something about the subject matter and the way the artist arranged the canvas and the way he or she applied the paint that injected me with what felt like a catalyst to an implosion, as if somebody lifted me up and shook me until everything inside of me shifted, leaving me with a sense of wonderment and a new found, buzzing energy.
This book did that. Every time I picked it up, I felt as if something big in my life had changed but I don’t know what. That sounds a little crazy, I know, but it’s so difficult to explain.
The book is by Ali Smith and called, How To Be Both.
I have no idea if you will be as inspired by this book as I am but if you do decide to give it a try, I have one warning: it begins in an unusual way and at first, I felt as though I wasn’t going to be able to read a book written in this style, but the style changes as the book progresses. Oddly enough, when that beginning part was over, I kind of wanted it to continue, despite earlier concerns. However, once I read on, I forgot about it because I was already caught up in the next section.
Just writing about the book, I want to go upstairs right now and begin it again. But, I have other things to accomplish today and I know it is waiting for me when I get into bed tonight.
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