Thursday, May 28, 2009


I ended up in A Mood tonight. I was on the verge of expressing surprise, disbelief even: how can I be upset? What happened? Maybe I was close to chalking it up to PMS or eating too much (which, let's face it, are not unrelated). But no, I know why, even if I don't want to. It started with police procedurals.

I used to malign genre fiction, but fell into mysteries a few years ago. There were jade candles involved. Maybe because of that I recently fell in (briefly) with smutty romance. I didn't find them as satisfying though, so after catching a recent Masterpiece Mystery I decided to start reading the Wallander novels, the eponymous character being a disheartened police detective in Sweden. Good stuff. Did the first two, and would have kept right on tearing through if the library didn't happen to be lacking, at that particular moment, number three. No matter. There was a back log of mysteries, of the more modern and not serial sort, that I could get through in the meantime.

I am amazed sometimes at the difference between good and bad writing, and how subtle it is. Maybe that's not fair; maybe it's just that my taste is very particular. Nevertheless the fact remains that some books are readable and others beg to be snapped shut and shuttled away from one's eyes as quickly as possible (the most recent of the latter for me being The Secret of Lost Things. SNAP). In any event, a book I started a few days ago quickly proved itself to be of the former sort, and I was happy to have something to distract me for a bit. But have you noticed that books, at least good books, have a sort of tipping point, after which it is imperative to finish them? It isn't always just about knowing what the point is, or the twist; sometimes it is just being finished, being able to stand back and evaluate the whole. Sometimes it is just the desire to immediately start again, to pick up perhaps on subtle details missed the first time around. I suppose in some way it is a measure of the "Goodness" of a work, the page on which such a point of no return resides. Some have you at page five. Others may take awhile longer to reach "gripping," where before they were merely interesting enough to avoid the SNAP.

So the book I was reading, What the Dead Know, hit that point for me tonight. I meant to read for about an hour, then move onto other things. It didn't quite work out that way, I say four hours later. As I neared the end, I felt myself overcome, with tears in my eyes. I'm not sure it was that the book was that good (although it was rather good), or even that I was shocked by the climax, having figured as much 50 pages earlier. But there was something. Then J from across the room at his perch in front of the computer said something about "Star thinks." And I could only blink. "What?" It still takes me by surprise, hearing the name Star. There's a gravity to it that doesn't exist when one is talking about a distant sun. It's as if the capitalization gives physical weight to the pronunciation, like it is visible in the air after it leaves someone's lips. I used to know one Star. Then I knew two, but still only had one. And while I usually keep myself in the present pretty well, sometimes I get taken by surprise. "What?"

Then bit by bit I start piecing things together. Dates are very important in this book. One of the character's names is also a celestial body. I had spent yesterday's lunch time walking through a cemetery with a coworker, and somehow we started talking about dead friends (believe it or not we walk there all the time, but usually ignore the actual, you know, mortality of the thing). And at the end, in the author notes, the author thanked Duane Swierczynski. That struck me, seeing a name I recognized. I wouldn't know him from Adam on the street, yet I have a significant affection for him, seeing as he wrote very nice things about my friend after her death. What kind of connection is that? But I still felt like one was there, to the point I was startled to recognize his name in the long list of acknowledgments.

The book also dealt with connections, with hope, with recovering things thought lost. I mourn Star very much in December, but I also seem to in June. I don't suppose that's all that surprising really. And seeing as I talked for most of the day about how it was almost June, since it is almost June, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised about names and reading in general making me feel slightly off. I don't suppose she'd be particularly pleased, me sobbing over dates and characters named "Sunny." But then, she has forfeited her vote. She can be as mad as she wants, but it doesn't really stop me- luckily she has not yet developed poltergeist-like abilities. (I think when she does, others may be in more immediate danger of physical scoldings, first.)

As I say, there is probably something else making me feel so bereft and lost. But maybe there's not. I've been staring at a prominently placed book on one of my shelves for the last several days, one that was a book club selection back when we had a book club. And, you know, actually read books. It was a selection of hers I believe (or at least, I will choose to believe), and now that I think about it it does bear resemblance to this latest. If she was still here I would recommend it to her. I have no idea whether she would have liked it. But I do know that she would have read it, because that's the kind of sport she was. And while she wouldn't lie to me, neither would she have called out in sing-song "hated it" or simply wrinkled her nose if asked. She'd be thoughtful about it, which is something a librarian, even one who strictly adheres to the page 50 rule, can appreciate. She'd get the tipping point deal, and even the SNAP, even if she might not really ever follow it. Which I guess is just another way of saying what a generous and kind person she was, and how very, very much I miss her. It takes a special person to be Bookish.