Sometimes I browse the fiction shelves of a library or bookstore in a mood of reverie. Reviews from the New York Times or Amazon may have intrigued me weeks and months earlier, but I have kept no particular title in mind.
At those times I find myself hoping for a certain kind of novel. I can picture main characters I want to meet. I become aware of the tone I am searching for in narratives about people wrestling with a situation or arriving at a realization.
Maybe I will just have to write something like this myself one day. Experience tells me, though, that I do not have the fiction gene as a writer. What if somewhere I could find this storyline – or something like it…
The main character is reading a book. Or re-reading one.
Chapter after chapter I follow this character, a man or a woman immersed in the familiar process of finding the times and the places in which to read one particular book from beginning to end. An armchair by an open window on a Saturday morning gives way later to pillow and bedside lamp at 10 o’clock.
The novel I would love to find would explore what gets someone reading that book – maybe a novel, maybe a biography – and what else is happening in the reader’s life for the length of time it takes to finish the reading.
The novel I would love to read will focus as well on the days the character doesn’t manage to read or even want to read. The decision to cook a meal, the decision to clean the house, the decision to chat with a friend may each claim the time and attention that could otherwise make it possible to read a further chapter or even just part of a chapter.
The novel I would love to read might allude to models the character had early in life for a regular engagement with books. Had there been parents or grandparents whose bedside tables collected titles, fiction or non-fiction? Would the parents and grandparents understand why our main character’s life looks and sounds the way it now does?
The novel I would love to read could describe the weather through which a character moves each day of reading and maybe even some of the meals punctuating those days. Is there a cup of hot cocoa or a tall glass of iced tea next to the reader? A sandwich on a plate? A cocktail?
The novel I would love to read would discuss the company there is for this main character in the process of reading. Is there someone who regularly asks about the book and its pleasures, maybe its frustrations? Is there another character deciding to read the book simply on the basis of this reader’s recommendation?
The novel I would love to read may be ultimately about the self-image the main character is living out or consciously reinforcing by the choice to read just this title when other books or other diversions are available in abundance.
And maybe. Maybe this character’s life really changes during the reading in a way that had previously seemed possible only in fiction.