Today I finished reading a great book. It was one of those books that’s strong throughout, consistent from cover to cover and with an ending that felt complete, particularly because it didn’t tie everything up in a perfect Hollywood-style bow. But there’s a problem with my perfect read. I have a stack of books I’m thoroughly eager to get to, yet I somehow can’t bring myself to pick the next one up.
In the film Liberal Arts there’s a brief scene in which an avid reader (portrayed by writer/director/actor/generally-bookish-fellow Josh Radnor) finishes one book, looks at the back cover briefly and then immediately picks up a new title, turns to page one and commences. Although its a film I otherwise love, watching this scene almost makes me cringe, my brain screaming out “Wait! Don’t! Just leave it for a while!”
I have been known on occasion to start a new book shortly after finishing the previous one, sometimes mere minutes after, but this is generally the case when I’m reading a series, two or more books with a built-in sense of continuity. Or, sometimes if I’ve just gotten through a book I haven’t enjoyed much I’ll plough ahead to the next title quickly, hoping to cleanse my mental palate. But if the book I’ve finished is one I’ve loved, there’s just nothing for it. I have to take some downtime.
It’s not that I have to spend all that downtime thinking about the book either. I mostly don’t think about it. And yet, I can sort of feel, no matter what else I’m doing, that the book’s contents are percolating away somewhere in my being, stewing pleasantly as I go about my day. Eventually, usually no more than 24 hours later, this process finishes and I’m ready to pick up my next adventure.
It’s strange the way a book’s contents can glom onto your heart in this way. To me it feels at once comforting and restrictive. It fills up the empty corners, but leaves no space for things to come. I suppose my waiting period between books is a period of absorption really, allowing the glom to transmute; the parts of the book that meant something to me to become fully part of me, as the best bits of the best novels inevitably do. A waiting period feels right. It’s not a period of mourning (at least, not usually), but a period of recognition that something another human has written can become intrinsic to me. That words have power, and in that once read they are carried within us, they also have flesh.