People bring my husband gifts. He’s a mechanic who for decades has run a little garage in Port Townsend, and his customers love him. No, I mean they really love him, in the way mothers indulge sons and spinster ladies used to dote on their young pastors. They bake pies, drop off vegetables from their garden, knit hats for him. When customers catch him limping, vast amounts of remedies are slipped onto his battered office desk or toolbox. Art has been fabricated; wood chopped and stacked beside our back door; our dog – let’s face it: Ali’s dog – has been spoiled beyond all reason. Bottles of wine appear on the shop doorstep with regularity, sometime between the frantic four o’clock pick-ups and Ali’s own departure before six. Ali’s dubbed that gift giver the “Wine Fairy,” and he or she is a happy legend in our family.
People also bring my husband books. “You’ve got read this, Ali,” he’s told. Or, “I read this and thought of you right away.” Titles range from business self-help (Ali is a notoriously bad businessman) to philosophy (but a relentlessly inventive thinker) to memoirs and self-published novels (Who better than Ali to appreciate the work of any struggling writer?) to ancient manuals whose turgid prose has made them as unreadable as they are obsolete (Treasures, Ali calls these – just like the well-worn lathe he was also given). And although I am the collector and rabid consumer of books in our household and Ali the legendary non-reader, he brings each book home, holds it tightly, and honors it. Which is to say, he reads it – thoughtfully, deliberately, and, from my viewpoint, excruciatingly slowly. Almost always, I will find myself thumbing through his newest book. Terrible literary snob that I can be, I am often dismissive, even incredulous. “How can you read that?” I’ve asked him more than once. “It was a gift,” he says, turning back to the page.
I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not reading, and nearly every stage has been marked forever in my mind by what I was reading at the time. It’s an addiction that’s been abetted by living in a bookish town. When we first moved to Port Townsend, at least four small presses claimed the town as home, and I cut my publishing teeth reading manuscripts at Graywolf Press, typing orders at Copper Canyon, and packing for Dragon Gate. To meet a Port Townsend fisherman meant becoming acquainted with another reading fanatic and often a whole new realm of literary discoveries. I pillaged our Carnegie Library every few days. Even now, book titles are spliced into beach walks heavy with gossip or talk of local politics or even the deep roils all our lives hit from time to time. Before long, the conversation will turn to “That reminds me of…” “Have you ever read…,” or “Here’s a poem…” Books are a constant boon, healer of all ills, creator of possibilities. Yup, I am reader, hear me roar.
And roar I do, rocketing through books as soon as they hit my radar. I consume and consume and consume, amplifying my imaginary life at every turn. Marveling at a story well-told, I can take pleasure in tearing narratives apart to examine the works, perusing a single paragraph for days. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown less patient. Less appealing work gets even shorter shrift. No time! No time! As much as it shames me, I am often proud of my book devouring, so happy to “know” so many worlds.
In other words, I am a hugely greedy guzzler of books, surrounded by many equally passionate readers. My husband is not usually one of them. Dyslexic, this usually mercurial man finds reading a slow go, one of the few tasks that he cannot soar through.
Yet whenever Ali brings a gift book home and settles into the task of reading, I find my initial irritation at his measured enjoyment soon dissipates into a kind of awe. “Listen,” he’ll say. And from that same book I set back on table with clear disinterest, even a little scorn, he’ll read a line that resonates, if not for its beauty, for the thought it engenders in this dear man. He finds something of great interest in almost everything he reads, and so every book fulfills its intention. It is a gift to him.
As I send another book out into the world and into this ravenous book town of mine, I’m acutely aware of readers like me, readers with appetite and expectations, readers who are my kin. And my greatest hope is that the book will slow them down, and that, even if just for a short time, they will become readers like Ali, who know an intended gift when they see one.
Adrianne Harun’s prize-winning short fiction, essays, and book reviews have been published in numerous magazines and journals, including Story, the Chicago Tribune, and Narrative Magazine. Her short story collection, The King of Limbo (Houghton Mifflin) was a Sewanee Writing Series selection and a Washington State Book Award finalist. Adrianne is a member of the core faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshops, an MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University, as well as a faculty member at the Sewanee School of Letters at the University of the South. Her latest book is the novel A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain (Penguin), available now in paperback. Adrianne has several readings scheduled in Washington and Oregon. Please visit http://www.adrianneharun.com/news.html to see her book tour.