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A recent week in March was filled with an unusual amount of travel as I did a series of three public talks in three different cities over four days.
No complaints, I’m happy to be busy and eager to meet with folks who want to hear what I have to say, but all that travel was pretty grueling, including one leg that had me arriving home at 10:30 p.m. one night, only to hop on another flight at 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
But all that time in airports and on planes was made significantly more tolerable by two things.
One: My daily proximity to Auntie Anne’s pretzel dogs. Yum.
Two: A great book, “The Book of Goose” by Yiyun Li.
The choice of book was pretty fraught. Normally I travel with at least two books in case I finish one and need another, or if I’m not connecting with one and need to go to a backup. But I was traveling light, using a single backpack crammed with my electronics and a change of clothes, with no room for a second book.
Also, for whatever reason, whenever I start a trip I need to start a new book, rather than continuing one in progress, so I have no certainty that I’ve made the best choice until I start reading.
Enter “The Book of Goose,” the story of Agnès, a woman in her 20s, looking back on her childhood in a small, rural French town in the years after the Second World War. Agnès and her friend Fabienne conspire to turn Agnès into a child prodigy author.
I’m not going to provide a detailed analysis of why and how I thought this book worked so well because, to be honest, I’m still a bit under its spell. While walking the dog on the first morning back home after finishing the book on the last flight of the trip, I found myself thinking about Agnès and Fabienne, as if Li’s story had taken up permanent residence in my consciousness.
When reading, there was one moment I was so engrossed, I was startled when the plane landed because I’d forgotten I was on a plane.
I read a lot of books, and most of what I read I enjoy (I have good taste!) but this kind of deeper connection is relatively rare, happening only a few times a year. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is why I read, but I think it’s an illustration of the truly unique capacity of books to connect with the deepest parts of ourselves.
Multiple companies are investing millions and millions of dollars into virtual reality headsets to provide users with “immersive” experiences, but I cannot imagine anything more immersive than a book.
I know there are lots of readers out there who know exactly what I’m talking about, who can lose their connection to the temporal world by falling into the world of a book. It’s an amazing thing.
But it’s also a thing that can take a little practice, and the right kind of experiences in order to foster that kind of relationship with books. As regular readers know, I had the good fortune of literally being raised inside the bookstore my mom started in my hometown of Northbrook when I was a year old.
Lucky, lucky, lucky.
I worry that too many kids don’t have an opportunity to develop a relationship with books and reading that extends beyond being able to pass school assessments that test a very narrow set of experiences.
Everyone should have a chance to access this magic.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris
2. “Classic Krakauer” by Jon Krakauer
3. “The World’s Largest Man” by Harrison Scott Key
4. “World Wild Vet” by Dr. Evan Antin
5. “Spiders from Mars: My Life with Bowie” by Woody Woodmansey
— Dennis P., Bolingbrook
Occasionally I run into readers of David Sedaris who are not familiar with the work of Sedaris’ friend, the great, late David Rakoff, and if that’s the case with Dennis, he must get a copy of Rakoff’s “Fraud” immediately. Even better as an audiobook read by Rakoff himself.
1. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
2. “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles
3. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus
5. “A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler
— Moira P., Orland Park
“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee pretty much bats 1.000 as a recommendation, and it’s been a while since I recommended it, so I have high confidence Moira will find it an absorbing experience.
1. “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford
2. “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce
3. “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles
4. “Slow Horses” by Mick Herron
5. “Daisy Jones & The Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
— Linda P., Libertyville
I think Linda would go for a good, good-feeling novel like J. Ryan Stradal’s “The Lager Queen of Minnesota.”
Get a reading from the Biblioracle
Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to firstname.lastname@example.org