Thursday, March 10, 2016

Books, Barriers and Bonds

It reproached me silently as it has for almost two decades. I tried to read it when my father first gave it to me, saying, "Here's a book you should read. I think you'll like it." But I was always so busy, always trying to read several books at once, and not having much time to read anyway. It sat beside my bed or on the coffee table long enough that I lost the thread of the story, which spanned four hundred years. Tidying up one day I put it back on the shelf, and there it stayed.

My father never forgot and would mention it from time to time. "Did you ever read that book?" he would ask, and I would inwardly squirm, make excuses and intend to do so...soon. 

I knew that it would mean a lot to him if I read it--traveled the land within its pages--go where he had gone before: Chesapeake.

Recently I scanned my bookshelves, pulling off books for a writing exercise. The assignment was to look at first lines, as many as possible within a few hours, and then to type up ten or twenty favourites and consider what made them work. I included Chesapeake, curious to see what its first line was. It was a good one:
"For some time now they had been suspicious of him."

As I flipped through the first pages to find that line, there was his name in block letters on the flyleaf. 
The firm hand and distinctive style belonged to the father I knew before his final illness, when his writing became spidery and his hand frail. And I felt a pang of regret.

A few days later, curled up in my favourite recliner, I was reading the gospel of John. I love the mystery of it--the sense of God trying to get through to people, but nothing being understood by those he was trying to communicate with, everyone seeming to be at cross purposes, although we, like readers of all good stories, are able to see clearly from the outside looking in and want to shout at the characters, "Wake up! Can't you see?"
A memory surfaced then. It was many years ago, and I was looking forward to a trip to England to be with my parents for three weeks. I'd been reading the  book of John back then too, and I thought that anyone reading it must surely see what I could see--the revolutionary way Christ overturned "religion" and reached out to the world in love, relationship, and sacrifice. The book has twenty one chapters--perfect for three weeks. I asked my father if he would read a chapter a day with me. He said no. I can see now that he probably panicked, he being an atheist and me, maybe overwhelming.

Remembering that made me feel less guilty. We both missed opportunities to connect on something important to the other. I did have reasons for not getting to a book he loved but which is very long, and he had his own reasons for not wanting to read mine. We didn't overcome our barriers then, but now mine have gone. I have time to read all 864 pages and I am. Chesapeake is off the shelf.


Charliene Metherall said...

I read Chesapeake years and years ago, and frankly don't really recall the story, but I do remember feeling awed when I read it. Wonderful writing that touched my soul. I must hunt down a copy and re-read it. As for John, that chapter is so full of love and exhortations that I really must re-read that soon. Life is too busy to fill our soul with every book we would like to read, and that is what a great book does. It fills our soul. Loved this blog Belinda. Enjoy Chesapeake...I just know you will!

Belinda Burston said...

Charliene, your endorsement of Chesapeake makes me want to read it even more, as well as another friend who said on FB last night that it is one of her favourite books. I will read it full hearted and hope that Dad somehow knows! :)

I've been reading the gospel of John over and over again since the start of the new year. I decided to suck the very marrow out of it! Lol--mental image! Every time I do, I see something new, that hadn't struck me before. I love it.

Marilyn said...

Such a moving post, Belinda. I have had regrets over books not read. I love that you've come back to it and that it occasioned the memory. Reading gets away from me and I've had to be intentional. This year I am trying to read a chapter a day of a book. I'm doing alright with it, but this past week the stress level picked up and my reading habit was the first to take a hit. I went several days without touching my current book. I have forgiven myself. :-)

Belinda Burston said...

Oh, Marilyn,
Good for you, reading a chapter a day, but being flexible about it! :)

I'm reading a book by Bill Roorbach: Writing Life Stories--and it has exercises. Exercise # 2 is: Reading and Writing. He writes that, "A couple of decades ago, I came to the clear realization that I needed to schedule special time for hard reading. I couldn't count on clear blocks of quality time, time when I wasn't half asleep or entertaining company or mired in life's poignant details.So I claimed the first hour of the day for reading..."

Well, he sold me on it and I adopted the idea. Of course Mr. Roorbach confesses that his life changed when his daughter arrived on the scene, and he now has "American Doll Hour," instead, Lol! Life has its seasons, but mine is retirement, and I'm loving the gift of a little extra reading time.

Belinda Burston said...

Marilyn, I forgot to say thank you for your kind words. :)

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