FRIDAY MORNING: Leaving New York City for my writing retreat starts with a jitney pick-up on Eighty-sixth Street. By the time I’ve settled into a back seat and arranged my reading material for the three-hour trip to Greenport, on the north fork of Long Island, we’re at the last Manhattan pick-up spot: Forty-fourth Street. Outside the window is one of my favorite neon word soups. Then a huge guy boards the bus and sits next to me, and I’m committed to the reading matter that’s already on my lap because I’m so boxed in by Giganto Man that I can’t reach down to get anything else from the carry-on at my feet. Actually, on my feet.
As usual, too much reading matter. This is something I cannot learn: Don’t bring so much to read; it won’t happen. Train, plane, jitney: too much reading matter. Which reminds me of an e-mail I got from Carolyn Waters, Assistant Head Librarian of the New York Society Library, when she recently took an eleven-hour train ride to Montreal:
Train was really enjoyable—the time went fast, as evidenced by my paltry reading completion percentage: I brought The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy (set in the 40s in Montreal, a Stack 6 find), Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, two New Yorkers, a Sunset magazine (I’m a secret West Coast-er), Food and Wine magazine, and an article on capital structure (don’t ask). I finished only The Tin Flute and made it through most of one of the New Yorkers although that one happened mostly in coffee bars and wine bars in Montreal while warming up before heading back out into the snow and wind. I also perused my Lonely Planet Montreal guidebook on the way up…and daydreamed.
I’m willing to bet that if I ask Carolyn whether next time she’ll alter her behavior—i.e., take less reading matter with her on the next long train (plane, boat, bus) trip—she’ll have to consider her answer. Inveterate readers like Carolyn and me tend to have no control; we’re more afraid of having not enough to read than of having too much.
I also love Carolyn’s last sentence: she daydreamed. And so do I, after we get past the traffic jams at the outlet stores (which add an extra hour to the trip), because it’s the biggest shopping day of the year. That’s the kind of event that an inveterate reader must be prepared for: what if the bus had been seriously delayed or what if the plane had gotten stuck in Denver in a snow storm and there was nothing to read! Eventually the jitney does hustle through the small towns, where looking out the window and daydreaming are actually better than reading.
SATURDAY: Michael and David have a wall of books. So even with all the precautions I’ve taken to be sure to have enough reading matter, I still want to go through the bookshelves to find new things to read during my week here. We do this search together, since M and D are equally inveterate readers and they wouldn’t want me to miss anything important. So I wind up with Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, Roxana Robinson’s Cost, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, and Angels and Ages by Adam Gopnik. You know there isn’t the faintest chance I’ll get through all that in a week, but I love having the stack by my bed. Too much reading matter.
And then things get worse: we make our pilgrimage to a delicious used-book store called Black Cat Books and we buy more books. I pick up a nice copy of Pat Barker’s Regeneration for Mike, and a book of Hayden Carruth’s poetry and a copy of The End of the Affair, which I probably have at home in my Graham Greene section, but which I might want to read on the return trip. Too much reading matter. Later that afternoon we go to a pig roast. I hate what it conjures: Book piggy!
SUNDAY: Hadrian has turned out to be both rivetingly interesting and completely sedative, causing oversleep. But the light is beautiful this morning,and the cold has lifted significantly. An afternoon walk is pleasant instead of painful, so I take pictures of roads that go nowhere. But I don’t just take pictures: I look. I think about open-endedness. I mull my novel.
The light wanes, and Mike and David prepare to leave to catch the ferry to Greenport, where they’ll get the train for Manhattan. It’s the very last train that will run this season; after this their choice narrows to jitney or car. The ferry, however, doesn’t end for any season and doesn’t stop its back-and-forth until late at night. Its route is considered part of the county road system; it must be available at all times for emergencies. Shelter Island is, after all, an island. I’m an island resident myself, but being on SI is being isolated in a way that’s the exact opposite of being on Manhattan Island. I came here for the isolation—the retreat. Tomorrow: novel.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Sundial Books, Chincoteague Island, VA
Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, IL
Book Passage, San Francisco, CA