Sometimes, I like to sit on my sofa and look at my books. Especially when I’ve just finished a book and don’t know what I want to read next. Conveniently, my main bookshelf* is directly across from my favorite reading spot. It’s my favorite interior view. Obviously.
Sitting there in my favorite spot, I think about all the places my books have taken me, all the thoughts they’ve inspired me to think, all the questions they’ve invited me to ask. I think about the conversations I’ve had with friends about these books. I think about how many people have read the same book, all around the world. It’s a lovely, cozy feeling.
Today, I was looking at my bookshelves with a critical eye. By this, I mean with an eye toward figuring out where the heck I’m going to put all the books I brought back from the book sale I went to this morning. Let’s not talk numbers. It’s so vulgar.
As I’m strategically moving books around – sort of like those puzzles where you have to maneuver squares to fit a certain pattern – I stumble on a 1920s bundle: Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Nella Larson’s Passing. During a two-week period a few years ago, I read these three novels in succession. My goal in doing so was to experience that period through a range of viewpoints.
A scene of 1920s-ish New York came into my mind as I looked at these books: an African-American woman standing at an intersection with her young son. I remember this about the scene: They’ve walked down from Harlem into a white neighborhood, and the woman is afraid, and she takes her son’s hand.
Sure it was from a movie, I combed my memory for the film’s name. Then I realized something: It wasn’t a scene from a movie at all. It was a scene from Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. The scene lives in my memory in such intense, vivid detail that I was sure I had seen it with my eyes. But I hadn’t. I’d conjured it in my imagination because of Gyasi’s words and the story they weave and the intensity of the emotion.
Have you ever had that happen to you – where a story is so alive in your imagination that you’re sure you must have seen it with your own eyes?
*By “main bookshelf,” I mean the most organized (term used loosely) bookshelf, the one where I still have a 50 percent chance of actually finding a book I’m looking for.