Ex Libris

J.T. Ellison

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse
And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book

                                    Sonnet LXXXII, William Shakespeare

I’ve not had the most auspicious start to my new year. A rather unpleasant allergic reaction meant a trip to the doctor, a shot in the bum, and a prescription for a funny little drug called Atarax, which has well-deserved warning labels — DO NOT DRIVE, DO NOT DRINK, DO NOT PASS GO… okay, I added that last one, but that’s what it felt like. Because when you take one of these puppies, you need to be prepared to leave the planet temporarily.

Grumpy and itchy and feeling like a horse kicked me in the hip, I left the doctor and needed to kill a few moments while I waited for my prescription to be filled. To sooth my wounded ego, I decided to drop by the library and pick up a book I ordered that had just come in. Why not, right? If I’m going to be ill, I may as well enjoy myself.

I parked and started in. A little old woman, and I’m being as literal as possible — she was tiny, shriveled, with suspiciously blue hair and stick legs under too bulky clothes — came charging out of the doors. Clutched in her gnarled, heavily veined hands was THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE.

She passed me, and I smiled at her. She gave me an unfathomably severe look and kept on going.

Was she a teacher, perhaps? Had she decided she needed a refresher? Or was she like me, just in love with old Will, and wanted to immerse herself in the glory that is his work? Maybe she’d never read him, and he was on her Bucket List. Doesn’t matter. In the midst of my misery, it made me happy. A moment of grace.

It’s the reading that binds us, you see.

Genre matters not a whit. It’s the revelation that comes from the written word, the visceral reaction to the story, the telepathic communication we have when we discuss a book with our friends. Our love of this hallowed form permits entry into the most elite of all secret societies. Don’t you hear people say "I haven’t ever read a book," or "I haven’t read a book since I was in school?" Don’t you feel sorry for them?

Not to be an elitist, but really, as readers, our lives are simply richer than non-readers. We have the gift of imagination. It is the greatest gift in the world.

After my epiphanous interlude with the blue lady and her Shakespeare, I went into the little building. It was busy. They must have just finished a program — ours has tracks for both seniors and children. The lobby was chock full of people, young and old, milling about, getting books off the shelves, reading magazines. The warmth flowed through my chest again. It is so damn good to see people excited to read. It makes my world complete.

I don’t make resolutions, per se, but for the new year, I did commit to spend more of my time reading and less playing on the computer. To that end, I’ve been stocking up on books. I traded a slew of material in at McKay’s, our used book emporium, and brought home several books by Stephen King and Ursula Le Guin, a few of the ones Alex has been talking about here recently, including the POISONWOOD BIBLE,  the new Richard Russo, a couple of Harlan Coben’s, and THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, which my friend Mary Saums recommended months ago.  Books. BOOKS. Bliss.

You’d think that was enough to hold me for a while, but as I started playing in the library, my arms were suddenly full. I was like a child with a cotton candy machine at my beck and call. "Spin me some more! More! MORE!"

Over the years, I’ve discovered so many writers at the library. After we moved to Tennessee, before I made any friends and started writing myself, it was my refuge. There aren’t a lot of bookstores in my part of town, and I didn’t know my way around well enough to venture out alone. But the library was right down the street. I’d see something that interested me, get the book, read it, and subsequently rush out and buy the rest of the series. Several names came to me because of my library. John Sandford. John Connolly. Lee Child. Laura Lippman. Karin Slaughter. Tess Gerritsen. Barry Eisler. I became a devoted fan for life of all of these incredible writers, all because of a random chance in the stacks.

With the advent of their computerized ordering system, I don’t spend a lot of time browsing in our library anymore. It’s relatively small, and of late, I’ve just ordered the books I need online, then run inside in a hurry to grab the title. Many I simply buy directly from our bookstores, though I’d be homeless if I bought at the rate that I read. After a rough year of deadlines and projects, just twenty minutes in the library stacks felt like coming home.

More than coming home. I felt like me again.

What has given you a moment of grace lately?

Wine of the Week: Woop-Woop Shiraz. and a few extras to boot, to say thanks to the lovely lady from Down Under who made my week. Besides, it fits how I feel after popping one of these little pills. Whoop – whoop!

9 thoughts on “Ex Libris

  1. pari noskin taichert

    Yeah, “coming home.”

    Did you see that Posh Spice was bragging about never having read a book? How appropriate. (I can probably find the link, if you want. It was on the bbc.uk in the last couple of days.)

    We are wealthier.

    Moments of grace lately?I know it sounds silly, but every single night when I’m home, I get to read with one of my children. Even though they’re getting to an age when they love reading by themselves, I still get to cuddle side by side and explore new authors with them.

    It centers me every night and reminds me of my real priorities in life AND the astounding importance of literature.

  2. Louise Ure

    I’ll leave the moments of grace to you and Ken Bruen this week, JT. Things are too crazy here for anything less than hysteria.

    But an appreciation of readers? Oh, my, yes. When my first book came out, I got an email from the guy I went to the senior prom with. (This was close to forty years ago, right?) He said he hadn’t read a book since then, but was buying mine. I heard from him again this week, saying that The Fault Tree would make two books he’d read now.

    There, but for the grace of God, might I have gone.

    And Atarax makes you think everybody’s wearing paisley. And it looks good on them.

  3. Angelle

    Oh dear. Woop-Woop Shiraz is what put my best friend and my aunt under the table at my post-wedding bash.

    Although it also showed me the depth of friendship in the people who cleaned up after them so I wouldn’t have to, being in a wedding dress and all!

    A really lovely post – libraries should get the same dispensations as churches and other places of sanctuary.

  4. Lori G. Armstrong

    This week? My middle daughter, the newest driver in the family, drove off the road when a car was coming straight for her. She hit a rock, popped the right passenger tire, bent the rim, and ruined the back passenger tire.

    I’m so so so so thankful we’re just buying new tires this week and not sitting in the hospital. Tires can always be replaced.

  5. JT Ellison

    Lori, amen to that!!!!

    Angelle, that’s too funny. It really has a kick to it. Such a fun name for a very nice wine. And aren’t great friends something to be thankful for?

    Louise, you mean they aren’t wearing paisley? Oh my. I’ve messed up again ; )

    Tasha, grace is coming your way in bucket loads, my darling. xo

    Pari, figures you would be finding grace every night. You’re the most zen person I know. It fits.

    I’m off to Sweetwater, guys. Have fun. I’ll report back on my first teaching foray next week.xo

  6. J.D. Rhoades

    Hmm…hit “post” too fast.

    Not just picking up the guitar, but messing about some with alternate tunings for the thing. there’s one called DADGAD becuase that’s how the strings are tuned, low to high, rather than standard tuning, which is EADGBE. Chords in DADGAD are these lovely round ringing things that just hang and quiver in the air, with a touch of Celtic bagpipe drone in the background. Bliss.

    And I started singing again which I haven’t done in too long.


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