Sunday, October 14, 2012
Readers passing in the night
After the first of three flights and meeting such an interesting fellow passenger, I boarded the next flight wondering who might be seated next to me. I made my way toward the back of the plane, looking for row 25. 5....12......17.... I looked ahead, and saw a sparsely populated zone on the pertinent side of the plane, with one passenger seated over there, head bowed. 20....I think that's my row....
My next-seat companion was already seated, immaculately arranged, and bathed in a reading light that lit her like a theatre spotlight. It was a bit unreal: a glamorously voluptuous woman in full makeup and professionally styled hair, in a bright red and blue dress that stopped above her knees. She wore fringed boots and thick Buddy Holly glasses. And she was absorbed -- unshakably engrossed -- in a book.
My eyes sought out what the mind wanted to know. No, not the contours of her body, silly -- we wanted to know what book she was reading. This is what readers do. When a reader comes to your house for the first time, he or she will seek out your bookshelf and check out your library. When a reader sits next to you, they will furtively check out your book. It is what we do. (We might discretely check other things out, too, but your book is very high on our list.)
It was Some Girls. Kristin McCloy. An erotic novel exploring attractions between women. The reader was in book-samadhi and she barely stirred when I stopped, stowed my suitcase in the overhead compartment, and took my seat next to her with my laptop finding its place at my feet.
Whereas my previous passenger-companion bent my ear, this passenger spoke not a word to me and acknowledged nothing going on around her. She did not turn her gaze on the demonstration of safety procedures and how to operate the seat belt. Her head remained bent over her book; occasionally she tugged at her hair, absently.
I opened my own book and yes, I sensed the movement as she furtively inspected what I was reading. She went back to her Claire and Jade without any comment, and I continued to follow Rushdie in his struggle to breathe fresh air while confined to remote country houses, his blossoming friendships with the volunteer policemen who protected him, the dissolution of his marriage. We may well have resembled a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bibliophile, traveling together.
This was the kind of woman I fantasized about in adolescence and teendom -- voluptuous females who love to read, uncomplicated love with complex females, that delicious impossibility. (Or not. Love is not so complex, after all, but people vastly so. Cruelly so.) It is no surprise that I married a voracious reader. In the household budget, her subscription to the New Yorker is in the "essentials" column with groceries and heat. There are now two children growing up among our books.
And now I sat next to a fellow reader, and we shared zero conversation, zero interaction, just reading silently the entire flight from Atlanta to Charlotte. When it was time to "deplane," I allowed her to exit before me, and as she emerged from her seat and walked down the aisle, damned if the reading light didn't follow her like a spotlight: the glamorous reader in Buddy Holly glasses and fringe boots, hardcover book in hand, nails painted burgundy.