Well, I’ve got to admit I haven’t had time to take a real field trip in the last couple of weeks, unless you call shoving all my personal crap into boxes that I should probably just have set on fire and then hiring a couple of guys to drag said boxes to a new house where they will sit in my living room for the next three months while I obsessively watch “Bachelor in Paradise” in a sad attempt to avoid the reality of unpacking a “field trip,” that is. Moving sucks. Over the past few weeks I did manage to complete this summer’s field trip of the mind, though: the Pratt Library Adult Summer Reading Challenge.
I love the library. It really is our only bastion of living, breathing socialism in a world of radical individualism where nobody shares. I mean, have you tried riding a bike in the street with cars? Those Share the Road signs are just mocking me, I swear. But the library—we all pitch in, buy books, and then we take turns reading them, promising to return them when we’re done so the next person can read them too. It really is a brilliant plan, and I can’t believe we haven’t figured out how to ruin it somehow. And then the library puts on a summer reading contest for grown-ups where each book you read gets you an entry into a raffle? I don’t even care what the prizes are—just let me at my entry form.
The last time I competed in a reading contest I was in elementary school, and each book I read raised a dime for MS, or something like that. Not to brag or anything, but I have long read above my grade level, and for those early contests I would race through books that were fairly easy for me just to run up my numbers. Because I was an asshole. For this round of reading contests I decided to actually read what I wanted to read rather than stuffing the ballot box with entries for quick reads like the “Fifty Shades” trilogy (finished that in a week last summer) or the Divergent series (or should I read that?). I started with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun,” a fictional story set during the Nigerian-Biafran War in 1967-1970. That’s some real shit, and no one could accuse me of reading just for the raffle entry. The book offered one of the most intense reading experiences in my recent memory, actually making me gasp aloud at the gruesome and quotidian nature of war. I recently saw Adichie when she read from her much-more-cheerful but still-biting commentary “Americanah” at the Pratt last year, and she was so good—smart, hilarious, and so stylish. That this kind of talent comes in a writer so young? Well, if it weren’t such a gift to the rest of us I might resent it a little.
That said, 543 pages was a lot, and if I was going to have a shot at lunch with the CEO of the Pratt Library, I had to get a move on, so I went hunting for some graphic novels. They aren’t comic books—they are real literature—but they read quickly (usually), so I figured this would help me catch up on the other adult readers who might be counting each book they read to their kids, decreasing my chances to win an e-reader loaded with free books. First up was David Small’s memoir, “Stitches,” because I didn’t want any zombies or superheroes, and I’d already read “Maus” and “Persepolis” and “Fun Home.” It was a quick read about a horrifying adolescence and that feeling of being invisible and yet still somehow in the way. More importantly, though, it was another quick raffle entry.
Next up was a biography of Harriet Tubman in preparation for my summer vacation along the Harriet Tubman Byway that I took last month. Tubman was so amazing, and Catherine Clinton’s bio, “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom,” was filled with so many amazing stories about her, it almost felt like cheating to get a whole entry out of this one, but the summer reading challenge gives you an entry, even if the book is cinematic in scope and storytelling.
Oh, but the page numbers. There was no way I was going to stand a chance at winning more than the free pen everyone gets for participating if I didn’t speed it up. And as moving anxiety started to build, my ability to focus on anything more complicated than John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” was pretty much shot. I raced through that, followed by the page turning best-seller “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and off to Louise Penny’s “Still Life,” the first in her Chief Inspector Gamache series. Sometimes the field trip needs to be engrossing, but other times it just needs to distract from the hassles of the everyday, and these last books definitely did that—total escapism from the parts of moving that you to see the most haunted parts of yourself, through the lens of your trash.
For me, I saw myself at my worst as I packed up the living-room closet at the old place. Tucked away in there where I kept the litter box, coats, board games I never played, discarded knitting projects, a single yoga block, a jump rope, one of those exercise bands, and a dry bag for the kayaking I meant to do this summer, I found one of those refillable bins for cat litter that you get at those big-box pet stores. And inside of it was dirty cat litter a cat sitter had dumped in there well over a year ago. I had to take the lid off and empty it into a trash bag, and that, I tell you, is some dark-night-of-the-soul shit, that I could live with that in the closet of my one-bedroom apartment for that long without taking it out to the goddamned trash. For that you need a page-turning mystery and raffle-winning hopes.