It is. But he wasn’t asking me. The young man checking me out at Von’s on the campus of Purdue University had asked his colleague if my purchase, Don Quixote, was fiction. With the category clarified, he returned to face me with an apology along the lines that he “should know”. Being who I am, I began a lengthy response intended to soothe the young man’s emotional state. It began with a rambling explanation of why I had decided to buy Don Quixote downstairs in the wonderful, cramped, used book section which is the basement of Von’s, and ended with me apologizing to him for my ever learning to read in the first place.
I steeped outside intending meet my son and his friend, who were finding food somewhere nearby, the used copy of Don Quixote in hand. I will sticky note, highlight, mark-up, toss around as well as read this very copy- next summer. Oh, I didn’t buy it for this year as I have other books to read yet, porch reading weather permitting. Don Quixote is reserved for next summer’s porch reading. It has become a tradition for me to let a “classic” or two come to me and then read them outside on my front porch where my ability to concentrate seems easier to access than indoors. Don will have to wait his turn.
My mind and my feet then headed for the venerable Rice Cafe for the rendezvous. About a half block out of Von’s they went their separate ways, as is the norm. My mind took me back to this summer’s reading. It has included lots of Oscar Wilde, Hamlet. The Shakespeare Requirement, some H.E. Bates, the Bhagavad-Gita and The Longest Road by Philip Caputo. I had taken The Longest Road and Tristam Shandy with me on my annual vacation trip to the Ohio River. This is a highlight week of the summer reading campaign. I was encamped in my delightful reading space on the deck facing the Ohio River on a almost too warm summer afternoon. The deck is raised two stories off the ground in case the Ohio River chooses to flood. I can reach out and touch branches and leaves while the river flows by me, powerfully indifferent. It is a wonderful spot to place the mind on a book.
That afternoon some clouds formed rather quickly. This happens almost daily on the river. Since the deck space has a roof covering half of it so I did not stop reading The Longest Trip. My mind on the book, on the deck on the river, I did not, at first, notice that it did start to rain this time. I heard a “smack!” about two feet in front of me at eye level. I looked up from my book. A large leaf was still shaking and a few tiny drops of water were dripping of it. The leaf had been hit by drop of rain. The sound was so clear and close that it caught my attention. The leaf waved gently up and down a few times in confirmation of what I heard. A few scattered small drops of water clung to the leaf. “That” I thought, “Is what reading is.”
Is Don Quixote fiction? Hamlet? The Gita? The Longest Trip? It don’t matter. Categories are created to help us find books in book stores. The “Best of” and “Must read” books lists can be useful but reading what is prescribed implies that it is your fault that you are sick. At the core, reading a book is simply energy meeting energy. Like drop of rain hitting a leaf.
That moment of the raindrop falling from the sky among uncountable others on its never before falling path, hitting one leaf from uncountable others from a tree on its own slower, steadier, original to it, path was, for me, my mind colliding with my book. Not just The Longest Trip, but Tristam Shandy, Hamlet, all of my summer reading, in fact all the books I have ever read. It makes perfect sense to me. If only perhaps, because I have written a novel and am rewriting another do I came to this realization. The mind is constantly moving. Easy enough to see. Yet, I think, so is a novel, or any book for that matter. I put energy into Tripio. It is held there for the reader-there a few of you out three-to take that energy into their own mind. When they meet a unique combination of energy is created. The raindrop and leaf replicated.
Where does that leave me? Still looking for the Rice Cafe. I got a little lost. I hadn’t been on Purdue’s campus for a couple years. As for Don, he will have to wait his turn. I wanted to go back to Von’s and tell the young man who checked me out that Don Quixote should be filed under “mental energy’ or “leaf meets raindrop.’ But , luckily for him, after a couple more blocks, I stumbled upon the Rice Cafe.
“May I help who’s next?”