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I read a lot during summer…on the deck, sparkling water in hand (until 4 p.m.), then a lovely G and T.  Mrs. B (the pink parakeet) keeps me company twittering to her friends ‘the outdoor birds’  in the crabapple tree. The top of her palace (cage) is covered with a tea towel lest the sun cause her to faint or lest she become lunch for the backyard crows or die of a heart attack upon the approach of the occasional hawk.

All of this makes for the perfect atmosphere for enjoying trashy novels. And, in case you’re wondering, dear readers, when I say ‘trashy’, I do not mean Fifty Shades of Grey or anything printed by Harlequin. I mean family sagas, women’s stories, animal stories, historical novels, anything funny, the occasional detective or political drama. What I do not read (and Gill will scorn me for this) is actual good literature. Well, I figure if writing for the common man was good enough for Shakespeare, who am I to get all snooty?

Since I am thus comfortably situated, it often occurs to me that having a snack to go with my drink might be a good idea. My favorites are spicy, salty almonds (must keep my blood pressure up or the pills wouldn’t have anything to do), popcorn with butter, crackers and cheese, salsa and corn chips, guacamole and corn chips. The one thing all these foods have in common is that they are greasy and/or colourful. It often happens that I wear light colored or white blouses or t-shirts when eating. I am, as Gill will attest, a messy eater. She often chides me for wearing white clothes and then cooking with tomatoes…or eating tomato sauce. It takes mere seconds before I have red blotches down the front of my shirt. (Again, what would my bottle of bleach have to do except languish on the shelf if it were not for such mishaps?) And so it is with the butter on the popcorn, the green guacamole, the red salsa. My shirt soon looks like a failed attempt at tie-dyeing.

It was with this in the back of my mind that I sat down to read a book lent to me by a friend. It was a hardcover, pristine, and appeared not to have been opened, let alone read, by anyone. I am usually reluctant to borrow books from friends because I worry that I will damage them — with food stains, water marks, or turned down corners. It doesn’t bother me if it’s a library book (since I figure I’ve funded several libraries over the years with overdue fines from my three kids), but if it belongs to a friend, I think long and hard about reading it. Friendships have been lost over less…especially since many of my friends are fastidious about their books. I try to be, but let’s face it, tomato salsa is tomato salsa and it is red and it drips. And reading a book without a drink and snack is practically barbarian. So there we are.

I had seen this particular book at the bookstore, prominently displayed with rave reviews  surrounding it. I really wanted to read it. And so I began…no snacks in sight, no drinks to hand. My hands were clean, nothing dirty on the deck table upon which I placed the book. I even had the forethought to find a bookmark so I wouldn’t be tempted to turn down the corners of pages.

I read the first chapter and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I knew immediately that it would take me a long time to get through it. That’s because I can only defy nature for short periods at a time. I was like an addict in withdrawal. I couldn’t not eat or drink while reading without feeling anxious. So I put down the book, mindful to use the bookmark, and vowed to not take it up until my nerves had settled. I was careful to make sure I had not in any way bent the spine of the book. I had noted, before proceeding with my reading, that the owner had written her name in the book — presumably to make sure she got it back. So I had to return it in pristine condition…unless I wanted to add “forgery” to my list of crimes against literature. I wasn’t beyond buying a brand new copy to cover my crimes, but I couldn’t replicate her signature. And so I am doomed to read this wonderful book a chapter a day to preserve its integrity and mine! Not my usual summer modus operandi.