Going Stag

Last Thanksgiving break, I went jogging with my dad. Running on North Ave., toward the end of what he has dubbed “the course,” I asked him asked him about his life, meeting my mom, settling in New Rochelle, and you know, how it all happened. My dad, who only stays up past ten on weeknights to watch Roger Feder, answered with a shrug, but went on to paraphrase the closing line from the closing story of Interpreter of Maladies:

I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.

My dad grew up in Long Island, but you know, it still resonates.

Another time when I was maybe 14, my dad and I were walking around our neighborhood. Around where he claims is the highest point in New Rochelle, but which is actually just a few small hills up from our house, we talked about books on tape. My mom listens to them, along with the Superstar Teaching series, tirelessly, but he and I think they’re a bit silly. The problem with books on tape, he said, is that there’s a moderator, but reading is really about you and the writer. When you read a book, you don’t have to press rewind to re-enjoy a moving passage.

In the past, I’ve felt frustrated reading a great book alone: Sometimes there’s nothing more lonely than sharing a passion with no one. But lately, I’ve relished the isolation of reading. For twenty minutes each way, I’m in a world separate from everything. When my friends do take a book recommendation, I find talking about fiction with them disappointing. Recreating an imaginary world with someone is just not as fun as being in it alone. Even with my sharpest friends, in fact, especially with my sharpest friends, insights about structure or characters leave me somehow let down, either with my own understanding of the book or of theirs.

Consider this my non-invitation to Jhumpa Lahiri’s reading in Fort Green this weekend. I’m really excited to see JL in action, but I have no interest in sharing my excitement with any friends. Frankly, I don’t want to hear their opinions on the way she dresses or what she reads. I want hear her read by myself, and listen to her as if I’m reading her alone.