Monday, March 22, 2010

Not Yet...

Proserpine has been about the place unexpectedly, the cherry and apple blossom are already scattering after her... and so on and so on. Lovely. Really it is. But in her wake, comes the first swirl of emails and spreadsheets and, soon enough, the first books in the mailbox, and my committee work begins again. I can't say I'm not looking forward to it -- I am -- just not this first bit, not yet.

I love the Spring. I love the new flowers, the soft air, sitting in the chill in the shade in our little walled garden and reading lovely old things, by Robert Herrick, and Richard Lovelace, and staring dreamily into the clear sky. I know that all of this is embarrassingly commonplace, but there it is, and here I am. I made a chicken sandwich and took that, a glass of grape-juice, and some books into the garden today and sat and ate my lunch and read poetry. Birds were singing all around me, no lie. Even the sound of a distant buzz-saw, from some far off construction, seemed in keeping with the day. Didn't mind. In fact, the only thing to interrupt this lovely day was the thump of mail in the mailbox. I thought nothing of this, but used the mailman's visit as an excuse to stretch my legs a little, move my chair so as to be again out of the sun when I came back, and strolled up the path by the side of the house to finally retrieve the newspaper and collect the mail. Then I saw something sticking out of the box. Ours is an old fashioned, rectangular mailbox with a lid on top, and the lid was propped open by a package. Still, I wasn't thinking of anything but the lovely day and the sorry state of the evergreens we had to have cut brutally back just last week. Pitiable things they look, until they grow back their green. But the first of our flowers look quite nice, I thought. When I'd collected the paper from the stone stairs and pulled all the mail from the box, I carried it not into the house, but back with me to my chair in the shade. Little other than bills, nowadays. Nobody writes anymore. (I write here, but not the letters I used to, so what else can I expect?) The paper I opened and read the good news and left the rest, such as it ever is these days, for later. Finally, in my innocence, I turned the package over in my lap and saw that, yes, it was addressed to me rather than my husband, and, no, it was not from anyone I knew. Only then did I let my heart sink a little.

Has it started, already?

The package was obviously a book. In my experience serving on the awards committee, the first books sent to us for consideration are always... well, bad. This is my third and final year of service. After this, I'll be done. I've learned, in my first two years, that very rarely do the first books submitted for consideration survive the earliest rounds of elimination. Something better almost invariably comes right along. I know, I know. A book published in the Spring is no less likely to be a good book than the books that will come in a rush in the Fall. But in two years of reading for this committee, I can't remember a single book I read in March being a book I wanted to remember in October. Probably nothing but superstition, but I do dread these first submitted titles. And here I sat, presumably, with the first one in my lap. I put it down on a rock by my chair. I finished the paper. I finished my lunch. I finished reading "To Althea, from Prison:"

"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage"

Finally, with a melodramatic sigh or two, I opened the ugly brown mailer, and pulled out the book. I never read the cover-letters from the publishers or the authors; just so much wrapping paper. What book was ever read because of what was written in a submission letter? I tossed the letter aside, and found not the fishing memoir, or self-published novel about life in a Tacoma bordello I was dreading, but a book I'd ordered, a book I wanted, a book, indeed, of poetry! I'd forgotten that I'd ordered it from a used books dealer online a week or so ago. I'd forgotten all about it, and here it was, instead of... something else.

Doesn't really matter what the book was. It was not, in fact, a committee book. That was what mattered. I need never read this book, you see, so I sat in the shade today and did. And it, and the birds singing, and the cool shade, and the beautiful first flowers, and not being at work today, made me very happy.

This will be my last year, as I've said, reading to a purpose greater than my own. And as I said, I really do look forward to serving one last time. I do. Just not today. Today, all I wanted, on my day off from the bookstore, was to sit in the chilly shade, my toes stretched out in the sun, and read what I wanted to, or read nothing at all. And after I'd read a bit more of my new book, and smoked a bit, I put the new book on the stack of old books by my chair, and I took a nap.

Bless you, benevolent Goddess, for one last perfect, lazy day!


  1. "Doesn't really matter what the book was. It was not, in fact, a committee book. That was what mattered. I need never read this book, you see, so I sat in the shade today and did."

    Why is that, do you suppose? I know my book group book is usually the last book on earth I want to read,no matter what it is. The curse of assigned reading. And, to continue a theme, it's another sublime Spring day here today, with the Park smelling of something or things in bloom.

  2. I'm exactly this way with book club selections too! I usually have to finish reading them in the car, parked out front of where the club meets. So embarrassing.