Join us all summer long for Last Read posts from a long list of talented writers, librarians and readers.
Guest author Melanie Greene writes when she isn’t reading, and vice-versa. She and her family live in Houston, and although she’s a 7th-generation Texan, she doesn’t have an accent. Or so she drawls. Her book chatter is at dakimel.blogspot.com, and for goofiness and pictures of her beautiful dog she’s @dakimel.
I was so zombie-d out by my annual spring sinus infection that I didn’t read for two whole days. (Context: I read hundreds of books per year.) When I was finally coherent enough crack something’s spine, I tweeted that not being able to read basically means I’m on my deathbed, and the subsequent riffing led Ryann, Lynne, and I to “Last Reads.” (They wisely rejected my suggestion that we call it “Dust to Dust Cover.”)
Clearly, my deathbed will need a nice deep side-table for the towering book stacks, plus a charging station so my audiobooks and ebooks stay powered up. But which will be that special tome, the one containing the last words I’d wish to absorb in this wonderful life, a life in which books have been my constant cherished companions?
First of all, I want it to be a reread. I don’t do a significant amount of rereading (all the beguiling new books are distracting), but it’s a comfort and a delight to submerge into my favorite familiar worlds. I walk down so many versions of Memory Lane when I open Pride & Prejudice: lanes that hold Colin Firth, of course, but also that thick Penguin Classics edition I annotated in college, and the pretty Coralie Bickford-Smith edition my son annotated in high school. (I know! But it was the only paper copy I could find the night before he had to take it in. My bookshelves are a mess.) All those lanes hold versions of me, watching sundry adaptations, reading or listening to the novel, carrying it with me, both in my heart and in the library on my phone. I relish that whirlwind of memory and emotion.
(One exception to my ‘it should be a reread’ rule: new books in a beloved series. If Claire and Jamie Fraser, Maisie Dobbs, Seal Team 16, Jacky Faber, or the Inspectors Lynley, Montalbano, or Gamache have shiny new adventures to take me on, add them to the top of that bedside stack.)
Because I do love to cry over a novel, I thought one of my sob fest rereads would make a good Last Read. I considered Bridge to Terabithia, but my sons have banned me from ever reading it again. Maybe they’d relent if I had saline drip to prevent the constant tears from dehydrating me, but even then they might not risk it. And The Book Thief seems topical, as well as being another novel over which my sons and I have bonded. (Bonding with my sons regularly takes the form of them patting me on my head while saying, “It’s just fiction, Mom.”)
But no matter what other books I considered, one kept popping into my brain, rather insistently waving its tasseled bookmark in the air and shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” It’s not one of my adored romances. It’s not a mystery waiting to be solved by an introspective detective. No one has to hand me a fresh box of tissues the moment I turn to page one. It’s just a really good novel, full of love and loss and intrigue and adventure. I read it in school and thought it was pretty good, and I read it again when I was visiting my in-laws and ran out of my own books; they had these green leather-bound Heron Editions for me to explore. It was then that I discovered the richness of A Tale of Two Cities. (I have to commend my husband for not rolling his eyes excessively as I gushed over the subversive social commentary, the humor, the elegance with which Dickens pulls the readers along for every stich of the knitting needles.)
Since then, I’ve dipped in and out of it, and reread, and listened to a superb audio version read by my favorite male narrator, Simon Vance. Okay, maybe I’ve listened to that twice. But Simon Vance never rolls his eyes at me when I gush, and never pats my head when I cry; he just lets me snuggle in deep and surround myself with the prose. And because A Tale of Two Cities makes me snicker and sniffle and reminisce and connect and savor language – all of the things that have kept me reading obsessively for decades now – I treasure it.
So whether I’m going “direct to heaven” or “direct the other way,” for my Last Read, given the choice, I choose to go shepherded by A Tale of Two Cities.