There’s a sacred, unspoken expectation among Readers that the right book will come along at the right time. In fact, as Alain de Botton wrote, “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us.”
Often we aren’t aware that the right book is needed until providence has placed it in our hands. Then comes that moment–that chapter, that sentence, that word–that reminds us why we’re Readers in the first place: because literature is transcendent; restorative, even.
Inevitably, Readers learn to rely on this moment. We put our trust in it, and expect the right book to always come along at the right time.
Then, on the day when we need it most, it doesn’t.
A month ago, my wife underwent surgery to remove a tumor that was attached to a cluster of nerves near the base of her spinal cord. Mercifully, the tumor was benign. The surgery involved only minor complications, and today she’s healing at an incredible rate. In the grand scheme of things we were very lucky. But these past few months have been incredibly difficult. Incredibly difficult.
In the last 30 days I’ve picked up (and put down) more books than I could possibly count, each time looking for some sort of explanation as to why this had to happen to the person I love the most. I didn’t find it; not even a comfort. As a result, I haven’t been able to read much of anything. These are the first words I’ve written since the surgery.
It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say, it’s that I’ve been bitter (and more than a little heartbroken, if I’m being honest). As crazy as it might sound, it feels like I needed a friend through all of this and that friend just wasn’t there for me.
Even now, as I write this, I’m poring over notes and passages I wrote down in the past few weeks, trying to find some quote, some morsel of wisdom that might bring all of this into focus. I’ve tried to shoehorn a connection between this and my reading of Gustav Janouch’s Conversations with Kafka for three weeks now because, well fuck, I had to try something.
I guess my sad realization is that I can’t always find truth through literature. Sometimes I just have to will my way through hard times on my own. Or with the one I love. Sometimes it’s no one’s responsibility but my own–especially not strangers in books who are more often than not dead–to put my life in its proper context. Oddly enough, if I’m able to do that, I more than likely have books to thank for it.