Lessons from Charley

Last night something happened. I think it’s worth sharing. Well, probably not actually, but I am going to anyway.

Last night, I opened a book.

I am tempted to leave it at that and get back to the book, but I suppose I ought to carry on.

To be more precise, last night I opened a kindle. My kindle. My kindle from “the trip.” My kindle from this journey we are reliving. It had been a while since I opened this kindle. It returned home with me and was filed away with my passport and my paperwork and my sea shells.

You see, I am a bit of an old fashioned gal. Leave me to my books and I am happy. Words and ink and yellowed pages are all that I love. There is nothing so satisfying as the texture of a much devoured page turning through your fingertips. Reading a book, truly embracing a masterpiece, well that requires every sense you have.

It is tantalizing and tactile.

It rests heavy in your hands as it steals your breath away.

Books are pieces of our past. Books tell a story beyond the words they contain. That grease mark there from the french fry you dropped during a stolen lunch break on a bench in the sunshine. The unending shower of sand pouring from the binding after a summer constantly transported in a beach bag. The dark stain bordering the bottom edge of this same sandy book, the result of days spent propped on well sunscreened legs. Dog ears and torn covers, pen marks and tear drops. The telltale coffee mug ring, showcasing one of the many other uses of a good book. You can’t use your kindle as a coaster, now can you?

So you see, after I packed away my kindle, or more accurately, after I loaned it indefinitely to my fiance, I haven’t had occasion to revisit the contents. I am happily surrounded by my books, pleased as punch. Last night my boyfriend asked for a new book recommendation, unfamiliar with many of the titles I had downloaded. As I cruised through “page” after “page” of my book list, I was slammed with emotions.

There was “The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest” by Stieg Larsson, which I read in two days while holed up in the hostel in Kenya.

There were the previous two “Girl” books, which I got through as time allowed during the weeks of overland travel leading up to Kenya.

“Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo, which I started by a fireplace in Boston, and again on a plane over the Indian Ocean, and again in the hammock in the Seychelles. I will conquer that one someday. I will.

“Cryptonomicon” by Neal Stephenson, which I finally put down 600 pages into its 1168 pages, trading it for a hardcover and a hammock in Bali.

“Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins which I veritably devoured in the first days of Bali. And then again in the Seychelles. Twice. Hungry for “Hunger Games” was a pun too easily abused.

“Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” and “Northanger Abbey” and “Mansfield Park” and “Love and Friendship” and all of Jane Austen. Over and over again. Fodder for the unofficial dinner table book club with my two wonderful one women wanderer housemates of the Seychelles.

Jane Austen and the “Game of Thrones” series were the inevitable end of every dinner conversation. Regardless of how it started, from fish gonads to shark sightings to silly stories, everything ended in dear Jane or Mr. R. R. Martin.

“Around the World in 80 Days” and “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, back to back to back sitting in a small apartment during a few quiet days in the Seychelles.

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”  by Lewis Carroll while lying on a sarong on a beach on an island in a country in the Indian Ocean, alone save for the crabs and sea birds for company.

“Out of Africa” by Isak Dinesen, which I began and abandoned on a bumpy road in Namibia.

“11/22/63: A Novel” by Stephen King, consumed in a hammock on another beach on another island in the same country in the Indian Ocean.

“Once a Runner: A Novel” by John L. Parker Jr, purchased over free wifi during a layover in Doha before an unending cross ocean flight. Homesick and desperate for my favorite novel. It was like comfort food, but comfort reading. I needed the familiar words and stories and chapters to ground me when I was most missing my life at home.

You get the idea. I have a good memory and an astounding ability to tie memories to tastes, smells, sights, sounds, and, as I learned last night, books. I was floored, as I sorted through my library, by just how poignant even the titles and book cover images felt.

Books.

Real ink on real paper.

There is truly nothing like it.

But I learned last night just how powerfully moving an entire library of titles can be. Titles that were explored and re-explored during a finite amount of time. Seeing that collection in my little old battered kindle marked my journey in a way I haven’t before. I’ve marked it by number of international flights taken in 365 days (26), number of McDonald’s eaten (0), number of stomach bugs (1), number of SCUBA dives (171), number of bribes (1), but I have never thought in terms of words read, pages digitally flipped, stories consumed.

It caught me off guard, this feeling I felt. The little memories that came rushing forth. Maybe the kindle isn’t so bad.

As I reviewed the titles I came to one I just couldn’t recommend. I couldn’t recommend it because, you see, I instantly wanted to read it again and we couldn’t very well share it on the kindle.

It was the first book of my trip. The one that kicked it all off. Some far off friend recommended it off handedly and it seemed like just the right fit.

“Travels with Charley in Search of America” by John Steinbeck.

I recall reading this work of personal, private, and poetic brilliance in South Africa. I sat in a home in Johannesburg feeling a bit pleased with myself that I was going in search of something so much bigger than America.

The world.

I was going to see the world.

But as I reread this masterpiece now, I realize just how much I have grown since I first found Charley, 5 years ago.

I understand now that it doesn’t matter where you go. America or the World. As long as you go. As long as you see. And most importantly, as long as you open your mind and your heart and your beliefs to allow the life pulsing around you to seep in and change you.

Reading Steinbeck’s introduction again I am many things, not the least of which is invigorated. Reading his words reminds me why I love to read. Reading his words reminds me why I love to write. Reading his words reminds me why I love to travel. And to do them all together at once, well I can’t imagine a life more lived.

I leave you with his words that stick with me even to this day, despite having read them first on a kindle many journeys ago:

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

So go, friends, let the trip take you. You might find it brings you beyond your every dream.

 

 

 

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