binge books

by bam

trust me, i know all the tricks: the sniffing out places you can be left all alone. the making up reasons to take the car on long errands. the squirreling away in your room, door closed, flung on the bed. the staying up till all hours. the quiet that blankets the house.
only this time, the binge is a book.
oh my soul, there is little so fine as a book that you cannot put down. a book that creeps into your dreams, takes over your day, erases ambition for anything else. a book that suddenly constantly tugs at your sleeve. like a toddler minus the whining, i guess.
“get back over here,” it insists. “psst, take a peek ’round this bend. i’ll tell you the secrets, tucked deep in the story. even the ending. but you can’t put me down.”
as long as there’re pages, it’s pulling you back. and then when it’s over, you’re empty. you’re spent. you are aching. the after-binge, unlike food, has you hungry for more.
but there’s nothing. you nibble on words, baked, sprinkled with salt, on just about anything. you read flyers, for crying out loud. anything, looking for just the same rush as the book that just drove the binge.
but they’re rare. they come, usually, unawares. without fireworks and marching bands. they wait, politely, silently, straight-backed, there on the bookshelf, just like all of the others, the second-class books that really should be scattered off elsewhere. but libraries are small-d democratic. librarians take an oath: equal rights for all citizens. no hierarchy. no special dormitory for fine books, books that could change your life. certainly add shadow and light where before you never knew it.
you browse down the library aisle. see a title. think, oh, i always wanted to read that. you lift it, cradle it, carry it off to the check-out. nothing compelling there.
but then, you crack open the seal. you glide into the story. you are hooked. you cannot, cannot be sated. you imagine, if you’re me, spending the rest of your life lost in that book, the loop of its plot replaying and playing. you will commit it to memory, unspool every last line for the pure total joy of it.
happened ’round here just this week. happened to two of us at the very same time. we were bingeing in stereo. tiptoeing around. sneaking behind doors. hoping not to get caught. once again, with the book splayed in our lap.
the wounded camper, the one with the knees still twice their regular size, found his joy, his delight, in the last of the books that stretch through most of his life, his reading life anyway. harry potter, the end. he guzzled most of 759 pages in a day. had had a few under his belt from some sleeping-bag reading up in the woods. but mostly he sucked down that story like some kind of cherry juice through the throat of a straw. for a whole day, wherever he moved, the book moved with him.
for me, it was–still is–toni morrison, and sethe and baby suggs and denver and paul d and beloved. sure is, “beloved,” the novel. just now i woke from a dream with sethe right in it.
it’s been years since i was so hungry for words in a book. i started on tape, listened the whole way to the tip of north michigan. got snatches on monday as i drove on long errands, made up faraway places to go. it wasn’t enough. by tuesday i had the book in my hand. from the library. but i know there’s a book store in my immediate future.
this is a kind of the book i love best: this is a book i read with a pen. this is a book i want to make lists from. i want to scribble down every last phrase that sent me to heaven and back, had me swerving there on the highway, hitting the rewind button. just so i could hear that sequence, that stanza, again.
best part here is toni’s reading it to me.
don’t know about you, but i fall in love with a writer like this. imagine bringing her tea, fluffing the pillows under her feet. whatever it might take for me to sit in her presence. dwell there. soak up the wisdom, the poetry that propels her. i could, i think, listen to her for the rest of my days. maybe i could be her gardener.
i want to know how her knowing is so immense. she writes with omniscience. and not just of sethe and suggs. way beyond that. she knows more about life than i think i will ever find out. she makes me feel little. makes my words seem like clay, dumb lumps of it, whereas hers, they belong in museums.
that’s why her voice, hearing her read to me, is rather like curling under a blanket, having your brow stroked. velvetly. until you drift into sleep.
i like hearing the story just as she hears it. like knowing the ways she says her characters’ names. not mangled, like maybe i’d do, if left to my own.
but after a while it wasn’t enough just to listen. i had to see it. i had to take in those words with my eyes. i would have smeared them like butter all over my toast and consumed them, if i could have. they are that delicious. they are that soul-opening.
i thought i knew of the horrors of human nature. thought i knew how hateful white folk–heck, any oppressor–could be. then i listened to page after page of “beloved”; i went weak in my knees, i tell you. even there in my old car’s front seat.
literature does that. we all know that. but to run your fingers over it. watch your heart take off like a kite. put to memory words and scenes you will never forget. well i don’t know if there’s a calling that’s higher.
if story can pull us together. span time and geography. slip us inside of the heart and the soul of some other being. well, then, don’t we go to our death a little more one with all of creation?
isn’t that, in the end, the whole point here?
if that is what comes with a binge, then bring on the next one. bring on the story, the poem laid out in prose. bring on the words that cannot be stopped; once you’re full, you’re still hungry. you cannot be sated. so is the joy of the binge of a book.

have you binged lately? if so, what flavor? what tickled your fancy? do you have a shelf just of books that transformed you? do tell. i’ve got my pen. i’ll take notes.