One of my favorite things is falling asleep. The best thing about it is not the actual sleeping, but the few magical moments between being awake and asleep. I’m tired, but in a satisfied way like a puppy – eyes closing, body cozying in on itself, mind going to one of the happy places it hides in at night. That’s my sweet spot right there. And of course that feeling is tied up with books.
Last night (as most nights) I fell asleep while reading. This time it was my book club’s selection – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The copy I’m reading is old. The book was published in 1943 and even though this isn’t a first edition, it’s close. There is a note inside from the publisher stating that the book is “manufactured in strict conformity with Government regulations for saving paper.”
I lifted this copy from the library of my Grandmother’s vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. When I was in my early twenties, we had to sell the place. Even though the sale included its contents, I raided the built-in book shelves that lined two whole walls of the living room, taking my memories: this book and many others that I had read during summer weeks in that place. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has my great, great Aunt’s name inscribed on the inside cover. “Helen Aston” it says in her spiky handwriting; familiar to me from The Lobster Pot, though I never met the woman who built and ran the place as a restaurant and rooming house with her sister in the 1920s.
The book is musty. The pages are thin, discolored, and about to rip at any moment. The cover is faded pink cloth with a peeling spine label, and the binding strings are coming loose. I couldn’t love it more. The noise the binding makes when the book is opened, closed, or page-turned is supremely satisfying. The smell of it is my childhood.
I remember originally reading it while lounging on the “reading porch” that ran around three sides of the house. I read my summer books while reclined on a noisy, ancient metal wheeled chaise covered with a lumpy pink (it was red 40 years before) cushion that resembled the cover of the book in both choice of fabric and utter mustiness. It was heaven.
I drifted off to sleep last night in the comfort of the same feeling I’d get while reading books on that porch in summer (in the rain, the sun, the middle of the night.) I smelled the ocean while I read the Poisonwood Bible. I read Shakespeare while sitting there listening to the buoy bong. I read Stephen King there (in day light only, of course.)
It’s not the stories I remember as much as the feeling of perfect safety, comfort and harmony. A feeling we all need more of as adults. But last night, for one magical moment before I lost consciousness, I was back on the reading porch, engrossed in Francie Nolan’s hard life. In my happy place.