Have you ever loved a book so much that you’ve revisited a few random pages each night before going to sleep? Have you begun a book, put it aside and then come upon it weeks later, having forgotten entirely that you’d cracked it open?
Both scenarios are true for me. Right now Brian Doyle’s novel Chicago is on a shelf I can reach easily while tucked in bed. It’s my favorite book of the year so far. It supplanted Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi for the No. 1 spot, which is really something because that book is astounding and probably a more significant work overall.
Ah, but reading is such a personal thing. Why is it that words put together in certain ways reach our hearts and affect us deeply, sometimes even illuminating depths we didn’t know were there?
I have some thoughts about why Doyle’s novel delights and moves me so. I spent the first five and a half years of my life in Chicago and lived in that grand city for another six years as a young adult in the 1970s. That’s a lot of days and nights spent absorbing the unique rhythms, sights, smells and soul of a metropolis, time when I was just forming a sense of self.
A singular time and place
Doyle’s novel is set in the ’70s and centers on a recent college graduate who moves to the city for work. The relationships he develops with the people in his apartment building over the course of a little more than a year, absolutely captures the unspoken heart of what it is to be a Chicagoan. The surface isn’t fancy, but what is underneath is magical.
I don’t know if people who haven’t lived in and loved Chicago would find this book as affecting and winsome as I do. However, I do believe anyone who reads it will enjoy it.
I won’t mention the name of the book I forgot I’d begun to read. I thought of picking up where I left off after rediscovering it, but decided against it. The writing is lovely, the book is well produced, but it just doesn’t grab me, and I want to read books that capture my imagination and inspire me. So that book is collecting dust for the time being. I’ll likely give it away at some point.
And here’s another question. When you begin a book, do you feel like you have to finish it even if you aren’t particularly enjoying it? I think many of us got in the habit of doing just that because much of our initial reading was done for school assignments. Remember those dreaded book reports in grammar school?
Please share your thoughts in comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Note: Photo of open book by Thanakrit Gu.