pieces of home

I donated some books yesterday, to that magical used bookstore I wrote about some time ago. I’ve been slowly tidying up my library over the last couple of years, and the donation pile has gotten fairly formidable in size, so I expect it was the first of many trips.

But I finally bit the bullet and made it, handing over a dozen or so of non-fiction books. They were books that I either never read and sort of lost interest in, or books that I read and enjoyed but would probably never pick back up again. I was totally okay with the idea of giving them up.

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That is until it was time to hand them over. I had pictured this ridiculous and ritualistic scenario in my head, of me taking out the books one by one, to be carefully appraised by whoever was on staff that day who would, of course, nod appreciatively at my choices of donations, before thanking me effusively.

That didn’t happen. Instead, my girlfriend and I stood in a mostly empty store until a frazzled employee ran in with an empty shopping cart, heading toward the back. He was stopped by an older lady first, for a question, and he was already revving up to head towards the back, with his cart, before I called out to him.

“I brought some books I wanted to donate,” I said, nodding towards the tote bag I had on the ground.

The man nodded. “This here?” he said, pointing.

I was barely finished saying yes before he picked up the bag and already beginning to roll away before I shouted, “Hey wait!”

He looked back at me. “You’ll be… wanting the bag back.”

I nodded in assent and walked over to help him take the books out of the bag and putting them in the cart. And as I took them out, one by one, I hesitated. For a second, I wanted to take them back. For a second, I wanted to say, “No, these are my books. Their home is with me.” But it lasted only a second, because I knew that wasn’t true. Or at least, not true anymore. So instead, I only carefully appraised them and nodded appreciatively before handing them over for good. Once the bag was empty the employee muttered a quick thanks before quickly darting away.

“No, thank you,” I said. And maybe I said that to the man. Maybe I said that to the books. I couldn’t tell you. I just stood there for a second, thinking that it was all surprisingly anti-climactic and bittersweet, before my girlfriend put a hand on my shoulder and asked, in a kidding sort of voice, if I was okay. I replied that I was sad, also a kidding sort of voice, but it was also perfectly true.

I went back home and to my remaining books. I was reading one of them today: Well-Read Black Girl, a collection of literary essays, edited by Glory Edim, where I came across the following quote:

“I can’t remember where I found it, but as with all the books that have stayed with me, when I opened it, it felt like a piece of home.” — Carla Bruce-Eddings, “Amazing Grace”

I read it carefully and nodded appreciatively, knowing that it was true, and hoping that the books I give away do the same for other people. And then I turned the page.

an absolutely present dream

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Seanan McGuire’s In an Absent Dream is the story about Katherine Lundy, a quiet, bookish girl who doesn’t feel at ease with her surroundings. She loves stories, so she finds comfort in books, and she loves rules not, as the story tells us later on, simply because she’s supposed to, but because following them “could make you an invisible person, and invisible people got to do as they liked.” (Katherine is also fond of loopholes.) (Katherine would have been a Slytherin.) At school, she’s guarded and reserved, and, as the principal’s daughter and the subject to some bullying, not at all quick to make friends. At home, she’s distant and struggles to connect with her family, mostly because they constantly fail to properly see her for the person she is.

Let us speak, for a moment, on the matter of sisters. They can be enemies to fight or companions to lean upon: they can, at times, be strangers. They are not required to be friends, or to have involvement in one another’s lives, or to be anything more than strangers united by the circumstances of their birth. Still, there is a magic in the word “sister,” a magic which speaks of shared roots and hence shared branches, of a certain ease that is always to be pursued, if not always to be found.

One day, walking home from school, Katherine stumbles upon an old, gnarled and twisting tree that seems to be plucked straight out from a fairy tale. Carved inside the tree is a door, with the words “Be Sure” engraved upon it. Are we at all surprised when Katherine walks up to it, turns the knob to open it, and walks through? We’ve known her only a short time at this point, but we know — we’re <i>sure</i> — this action was as inevitable as death.

This is a story about identity, and belonging. About searching for a place to call home, and what home means, and the price you have to pay to find it.

What is home, after all, apart from the place one returns to when the adventure is over? Home is an end to glory, a stopping point when the tale is done.

Three pages were all it took for me to remember just why I love this series so much. Seanan McGuire’s language in these books is lyrical and lush and drop-dead gorgeous, perfectly capturing the rhythm and beats of traditional fairy tales while still retaining enough of McGuire’s darker, modern edge. And it’s a sharp edge at that. One of the most striking things about the writing in the Wayward Children books is how brutally honest it can be. The language is luxurious, but it is used to reveal some harsh truths.

It is so often easy, when one has the luxury of being sure a thing will never happen, to be equally sure of one’s answers. Reality, it must sadly be said, has a way of complicating things, even things we might believe could never be that complicated.

And this is a harsh story. Beautiful, to be sure, but Lundy’s tale is, ultimately, a tragic one, and the writing delivers on that, one bittersweet line at a time.

making, listening, seeing

I am slowly making my way through Adam Savage’s book, Every Tool’s a Hammer (on audiobook, hence the slowness).

His YouTube channel, Tested, just uploaded this “sermon” that he gave at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire, and although I’m barely halfway through the book, this talk seems like a condensed, infinitely more manic version of the thing.

I was amused to find that a good portion of the talk is dedicated to the importance of listening, since John Green’s video on Keanu Reeves, which I also just saw today, deals with the very same topic. Cosmic coincidences. Everything feeds into everything else. Confluence.

Anyway.

Adam Savage is a good soul, and the world is much more interesting with him in it.