6/4/14 – MAKING TIME FOR SERENDIPITY
Inexplicably, I found A.S.A. Harrison’s novel The Silent Wife, on my nightstand. Where did this book come from? Did my mother leave it for me? Did I buy it for a book club meeting I couldn’t attend and abandon it? I had no clue, but I picked it up and started reading.
My inability to give the provenance of books and other objects in my home, or even on my nightstand, is unremarkable at my age. What is remarkable is my willingness and ability to bring a stray book into my life. There was a time, decades ago, when I’d wander around the house or library and spontaneously start reading whatever caught my eye. Back then I had no plans or preconceived judgment about the worthiness of a book. Back then my mind was still open, still a sponge for whatever came its way.
Those days are long gone. My book list today is more likely plotted by book club buddies and the masterminds at Goodreads and Amazon Picks. I suspect I’m not alone here. With fewer and fewer physical bookstores and libraries, most of us rarely stumble upon, and then decide to read, books that weren’t picked for us based on our prior interests, books that just happened to land in our physical proximity or cross our visual field.
The Silent Wife – which, admittedly, had found its way into my home by some unknown but not utterly random process – promised to be a psychological thriller. Set in my hometown of Chicago, it concerned a well-heeled, well-schooled woman doing what many such women can only dream of to her committed cheater of an “almost husband.” The abundant cover blurbs promised a genuine page-turner, and a smart one at that. Adding to the allure, the author, on verge of literary fame, apparently died of cancer at age 65 right before she got to see what she had accomplished – including a movie deal with Nicole Kidman as star. What wasn’t to like?
Well, a lot wasn’t to like for a person who likes to plan her life, including her reading.
I had no business reading this book. I had a stack of half-read nonfiction books sitting on the shelf above my bed. I had a year’s worth of unread issues of the New York Review of Books and the American Scholar under my windowsill. I had two book club assignments looming. And I knew full well that I had vowed to myself to pick up Proust where I left off years ago the next time a space opened up in my reading schedule.
That being said, I read The Silent Wife in two days. All the time I’m always saying I don’t have was mysteriously there for me. Perhaps the spare time was hidden in silent interstices – the times I’ve spent eating breakfast, checking and re-checking Facebook, complaining that I have no time. I don’t know where the time came from, other than being created by the will to read. This kind of serendipity happened routinely in my childhood. It almost never happens now,
I suppose the timing was right though, or this book was juicy enough to return my mind to its sponge state. Perhaps after dutifully completing two heavy duty tomes on my reading list, I needed this excursion, and giving in to spontaneity led to the serendipitous discovery of a good read. Whatever the explanation, I managed to read, and savor, the serendipitous read.
I was pleased and proud to discover that I can still give myself over to literary spontaneity on occasion. I’m far too rigid and disciplined a person to abandon all plans and devote myself to random reading henceforth. But this worked so well that I’m going to make a plan to be spontaneous again sometime soon.