On Serendipity (Or, You Can’t Force a Book)

I have several books on my reading list. Infinite Jest (which I may well get kung fu’ed in the face by the recommender for not reading yet), After Dark, Subliminal (which I actually started and have quite enjoyed, but non-fiction wasn’t doing it), Outliers (which I’ve wanted to read for a very long while), The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, 4:50 from Paddington, Vanity Fair, What Dreams May Come, Orcs, Bears, and Assholes (written by the incomparable Robert Bevan. Reviews forthcoming), et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. My book list fills me with glee. One of my greatest joys is knowing that there is always, and will always be, something else to read.

When I read more in paperback, I would buy new books and put them in a stack. The new books would remain in stack form, occasionally relocated to other parts of the house or dorm room or apartment, but stack intact, until they were all read. The stack never truly depleted, because any new books would be added to the new book stackpile. Only once a book was read would it go on a shelf. I wish I could have a book stack on my Kindle; I never buy enough paperback books anymore to form a true stack.

In any case, my book list operates just like my book stack. There is no order, no timeframe, no imperative to read these books in any particular sort of way. The list, the stack, is merely the category “Unread.” The contents of the stack fluctuate and change like a Gemini–at a whim. There are no rules of what to read next, merely suggestions. The next book is always whatever book happens to be read next.

And sometimes it’s a book that’s not on the list or in the stack. Sometimes it’s a book that finds me. Sometimes I can try to read another book, but there’s a book out there that I need right now, and it crosses my path. I try not to resist these moments. I believe that all books find us, really, because I believe that we are found in books.

Yesterday, for example, there was Kindle Daily Deal for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’d been meaning to read it, but again I hesitated. A book about a girl with terminal cancer falling in love and  then meeting her favorite author? It sounded like a Lifetime movie. And I know about Lifetime movies–they are my mother’s absolute favorites.  I did not, and do not, want to read a Lifetime movie, or a novel length Hallmark card either, for that matter. I read a review on Amazon that addressed my assumptions. I then spent $3.99 for the book. At 7pm last night, I started reading it.

Why this book, when I have so many other books on my list? I buy and borrow books all the time, and don’t open them all right away. I was already reading Subliminal, and enjoying it. So why put it down for this book?

I can’t really answer this question. Perhaps it has something to do with my unconscious mind picking up on things, processing them beneath the surface, and then outwardly manifesting my conclusions by suddenly reading a different book. Of course, if I’d read more than 20 pages of Subliminal so far, I’d be able to tell you more about that. All I really know is that you can’t force a book. If it’s not time, it’s not time. And drifters come along–those books that seem to float in your vicinity for a while, on the shelves at the bookstore, in your suggestions on Amazon, in reviews that you stumble across while looking for something else on the Internet–and the drifters are the ones that get you where you live. And take you where you’re going. And sometimes change your life.

If I didn’t have to work this morning, I probably would have finished The Fault in Our Stars last night. I stayed up late enough that I refused to look at the clock to see the time. And I only stopped reading when it occurred to me that if I saved the last 30% of the book, I would have more to read today. And in case this book is, as I suspect, a life changer, an outlook alterer, a decision precipitator, I wanted to be fully awake for the metamorphosis.

So in just a moment, I’m going to keep reading, furtively at my desk. And chances are good that I’m not going to write a separate review about this book (but who knows? I might.). It’s hard to write immediately about the books that you absorb into yourself. Will this book change your life? I have no idea. For me, where my life is, and the crazy improbable shit that I deal with on a near daily basis, this book speaks. All I can say for sure is that it’s a serendipitous drifter that eventually fell into my lap. Maybe it’s time it fell into yours. And maybe it’s not. Maybe you have a different drifter that hasn’t ripened enough. Maybe you’re still working on your stack.

It’s all about kairos, really. Karios and serendipity. And it’s one of the great things about reading, and it’s one of the great things about books. You never know what’s going to happen next.

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