[Editor’s note: I’m so pleased to welcome a fellow SUNY Purchase alum, Zach, to BiblioSmiles! Let him know your thoughts -and share your own stories- in the comments below.]
More than the books themselves, I always remember the time I spent with them. This is not an insult to the stories the authors have drafted, edited, edited again and then published for me to enjoy. I see it as a compliment, maybe even the highest praise I could give to a story.
I remember the first and only time I read Dangling Man by Saul Bellow was in the midst of a howling New York hurricane. Mom told us to keep stapling garbage bags to the walls to prevent our possessions from getting damaged by the oncoming rain. I was supposed to go back to college to start my senior year but due to weather and the threat of death by commute, I was being held hostage in my childhood home, constantly checking my cell phone to see if my sort-of girlfriend was enjoying her first day back at college in North Carolina. She’s not my girlfriend in the way that we broke up because we both agreed that long distance relationships never work, but she’s sort of my girlfriend in the way that we keep calling and saying that we love each other.
So it’s just like every college relationship out there.
I sent her several texts, sounding more and more desperate for human contact.
12:05 AM text to Kelsi
“Hurricane’s in full swing here but don’t worry! We’re all safe! Miss you!”
12:10 AM text to Kelsi
“I’ve been reading Dangling Man so I might be up later if you wanna call!”
12:20 AM text to Kelsi
“Not that you have to call. Just if you wanted to. Hope you’re enjoying being back at school!”
The wonderful thing about books is that they will always talk back to you.
At the beginning of the night, I had no intention of reading. But my parents put me in charge of checking the walls every 45 minutes for rain damage, and if Kelsi was at a party, then she was never going to call and the world was asleep or far away from where I was and I all I wanted was someone to relate to. Enter Saul Bellow and his madcap narration of Joseph, who is left stranded in Chicago without a purpose or a person he can relate to.
In short, I fell in love. I had found someone who understood what it felt like to feel trapped in your life at the exact moment the walls started to cave inside myself. I clung to the pages for dear life.
I remember how when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was walking through the hallways of my elementary school, looking at all the muggles who had no idea what I was about to become. The hallway was empty save for myself who was running late to class, because when your eyes have transported you to Hogwarts, it’s hard to get your body to return to PS 29.
One day in fifth grade, I had a fever of 101 and stayed home. Missing the schedule of my school day, I decided to sit in a corner of my room and read the entirety of The Zack Files series by Dan Greenburg. I made it through book #16, Evil Queen Tut and the Great Ant Pyramids, before falling asleep.
Sixth grade was the year my friend Amr and I began competitively sneak-reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy throughout all our classes. We designed book covers that looked like our textbooks in order to give ourselves just a few more extra minutes in Middle Earth.
My first time sitting through Grand Jury Duty for a week was made less mind-numbing thanks to Dave Eggers and his magnum opus to quarter-life strife, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The tedious proceedings of justice rendered less monotonous with Dave Eggers in my lap.
My mother lent me Paul Auster’s The Red Notebook one day at home in Brooklyn and now I make sure it’s with me wherever I go.
There was one copy of E.L. Doctorow’s classic Ragtime at Midwood High School’s library, and I spent periods one through five devouring it. Looking up from the tattered pages and out at the bookshelves and pimpled high schoolers, I began to understand that there were life experiences I had yet to participate in.
While working on a documentary in Florida, I escaped the stench of the state with Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. When I met him two months later, I thanked him for helping me escape Florida. He told me it was his pleasure.
I read a collection of short stories from Raymond Carver on the night my friends abandoned me for a dorm party and the next morning I was the only one to wake up without regrets.
The day I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I stared out my first floor bedroom window at Purchase College and admired life as a whole. I saw the sun shining bright, painting the day in orange hues. I saw a guy and a girl walking to lunch and I wondered if they were in love or if they were friends or if they would enjoy reading a book today.
When my life gets strange or weird or seemingly out of control, I look for a book to sink into. I’m never sure if I would remember those moments were it not for the books I read then and I’m not even sure if my life would have ended up the way it is were it not for books. One of my favorite moments that happens every single time I read a book is that moment when you finish a sentence and turn your eyes upwards and outwards to the surrounding world ahead of you. Books are the floating piece of wood for when your plane has crashed into the ocean and you need something to help get you back to the shores of life.
When you have the time, spend it with books. They’ll always reward you for the effort spent.
Zach Lennon-Simon is a writer, filmmaker, and YouTuber originally from Brooklyn, NY. He enjoys books, sci-fi shows, beer, pizza, and the attempts of the New York Mets to achieve greatness. Check out his YouTube channel, Zach Vlogs.