Not Worth a Moment’s Guilt
Eating. Have you ever thought much about it? In this country it is difficult NOT to consider food. A plethora of books exist on the subject of food and dieting. The covers of magazines are full of carefully sculpted and sometimes anorexic individuals designed to make the magazine more appealing to that side of us that either wants to be as attractive as that person on the cover or thinks they are or can be as attractive. The accompanying headlines herald the latest weight loss gimmick while simultaneously announcing a series of recipes inside that will make any mouth water. Talk about mixed messages! I wonder what Sigmund Freud would make of the world today—or would Freud be just another pop psychologist delivering solutions in 30 minutes or less in between commercial spots if he lived today?
When I was a child, eating was something that had to be done in the way dusting and cleaning and taking the trash out had to be done. It was not appealing. Meals, when I was growing up, were not fun or interesting. We children had to be quiet at the supper table, a huge source of frustration for me since there was always something else interesting away from the table—a bug or a toad in a box, lightning bugs to catch, books to read or paper dolls. As I grew older there were other people to interact with, homework, wonderful books to read or a job I enjoyed. Meals; I just didn’t have time for or interest in them. Though I loved to cook from the time I was allowed access to a kitchen, I did it for the creativity, not the gustatory delights.
It wasn’t till I hit my late thirties and met the man to whom I am now married that food became something to actually enjoy. He introduced me to the pleasures of dining by the water and watching the boats, the birds and people while I ate. He initiated me into the joys of driving for hours to reach the other side of the state for the best catfish or barbecue in the world. “Eating” became a joyful thing to do, and food became an experience as opposed to an obligation. Meals were time for conversation, debate and discussion—punctuated by salads, soups, appetizers, casseroles, cakes and good coffee and laughter. So much more was fed than just my stomach. My heart, my head, my entire being became involved in a meal, and I would find myself looking forward to the next one.
This new attitude about food made me realize that books are very much like meals. The mark of a truly wonderful book is one that involves more than just understanding the words on the page. I was reminded of this yesterday in a way that surprised me.
I have been reading a couple of books that are like a tough, dry pot roast that dinner. Pot roast has never been my favorite meal, but it has a few intriguing elements like sweet carrots, tender potatoes and peas in an adequate gravy. Certainly the meal is not one to be thrown away, just not something I would ask for again. So it is with these two books in progress, one a book with a business theme, the other a dark and broody mystery. Neither of them have been as satisfying as I expected. I was ravenous for the one book I did not have to read. It was the book I left in my desk drawer that I wanted.
Several weeks ago I had gotten Audrey Niffenegger’s book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, from the library to read during my lunch hour. Reading and eating at the same time is a deliciously decadent pastime. Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far into the book before I had to return it to the library. But the first few chapters convinced me that I had to own this one. The weeks of reading as though I had been enjoying snacks or appetizers has just made me want more of the same. I wanted to forgo my other books and feast on this one as if it is my last meal. I can’t believe I forgot to bring it home with me at the end of the week. And it’s a long holiday weekend. I am now so hungry for this book that nothing else is remotely interesting. Several times I have cruised my bookshelves in the way I tend to search the pantry looking for something to satisfy a craving. It hasn’t worked. Not having this particular book to read makes me feel as though I am fasting (though without the loss of ten pounds).
It is the story of Clare and Henry. He suffers from a rare chromosomal disorder that enables him to travel though time. But he is not in control; the defect is in control of him. I initially took this to be science fiction. But it is actually a love story between Henry and Clare, told from both their perspectives, as she lives in real time and he travels through time. It reads the way a really good conversation happens—deep, rich and textured as the characters experience each other at different ages and different times.
I love the sense of reality Ms. Niffenegger puts into the story, unlike movies, cartoons or other stories of time travel. When Henry time travels, his clothing does not go with him. He arrives elsewhere naked, which makes sense to me; one is not born wearing clothing. He has to survive in whatever new reality he lands. Having to stay alive in whatever circumstances he finds himself naked and alone turned Henry into someone with sharply-honed animal instincts who did whatever was required, not all of it nice. The knowing of Clare has the effect of civilizing Henry. The knowing of Henry since the age of six changed Clare irretrievably; she knew she was destined to marry this man who traveled through time. It is an extraordinary tale thus far. I don’t know how it ends, and I’m glad because right now I want it to go on and on.
What I do know is that this book is going to be one I will want to savor over and over again. It is having the same effect on me that the succulent aromas coming from the oven on Thanksgiving Day do, or the way the tantalizing smell of chocolate chip cookies brings my husband in from whatever project he is working on to enjoy some freshly brewed coffee and the hot gooey cookies while he fills me in on all the details of his tasks.
There are some things in life that are not worth a moment’s guilt—a good meal with a friend or someone you love and losing oneself in an excellent book. No mixed messages here. Both should satisfy. And both are worth the wait or the weight!
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at