the taste of books on my tongue

Some books  I read in one or two sittings, a greedy and impatient swallow, a fast forwarding of  time- books like Norwegian by Night, The Book Thief, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, The Giver. Some books I let spill out slow and lovely, a dragging of days, a deep drawl of the consonants- fat, sprawling books like Wild Swans and The Brothers Kamarozov. Some books taste of nothing- not in a negative way, but in a paper-silence-stillness-ink-and-bone way. And some books are Spring, and some are mid- Winter. Some books smell of fresh laundry and slightly wet wood, and some books taste like sour cherry pops or sticky lemonade.

I read Anne Frank’s diary sprawled cross my bed on a Sunday. I was thirteen or fourteen, just like Anne. It felt like making a new friend, reading the thoughts of this girl with thick dark hair and unflailing optimism and hiding out in an attic as the world fell to pieces. I remember eating whole wheat salted crackers; the texture was thick, coating my tongue and nestling in my teeth. The book was a new paperback edition and smelled of  ink and the freshness of the store. I didn’t want her to die. I wanted her to rediscover the expanse of the sky and the tenderness of the leaves in the dawn. I wanted her to find someone who made her head spin, and I wanted her to become a journalist  and live in one of those enchanting colorful apartments, lined along the Amsterdam canal. It is touchingly strange how fresh and engaging she is, how alive her eyes are even in photos. I will always associate her diary with an unaccounted ache, and the salt heavy on my tongue.

Gone with the Wind took me a summer to finish. I reached the peak of insomnia then and was almost always awake come morning. Soon as I heard the birds I would throw on a hoodie and take the thick 1958 edition and venture onto my front steps. We live on a busy avenue and at 6 am, in a golden white quiet, there was a reluctant and wistful awakening. Early morning joggers running by and people with sleep moussed hair and flip flops walking their dogs and men on their way to work, sleepily shuffling towards their cars, clutching coffee and keys, their faces vacant. I would read for a while – sometimes till nine- as the street grew sunnier and noisier and school buses would start to  heave by with sweaty kids howling out the window. Scarlett O’Hara charmed me. She was so unlike me, but her story unfolded slow and sweet, with the nostalgic undercurrent so many Southern novels seem to have, and I adored her fierceness and her resilience and her general impudence. Her spirit weaseled its way into my heart; I connected to her; sympathized. So Margaret Mitchell’s novel puts the summer air and the Southern-like heat on my skin. It is one of the few books I cannot dream of reading come September.

I know some found it a bit of a drag, but I found And Then We Came To An End wickedly and brilliantly funny. Like, laugh-out-loud, why-is-this-even-life kind of funny. I remember reading it on the overpopulated lawn in Bryant Park, the sun glaring in my eyes, my friend sprawled beside me with her own book and Italian ices. It felt good, being entertained, and having a dog eared paperback and braided hair. It felt good to be young and alive and a New Yorker with the sure promise of good food once our muscles got cramped and we would leave. The end of the book felt, to me, overdrawn and a bit unnecessarily dramatic. But it invokes the freedom of adulthood in the city and the smell of grass and the sounds of strangers’ chatter and background traffic.

Fear can taste delicious when you are 11 years old and safe in your bed and reading Agatha Christie, barely breathing.  Reading And Then There Were None had marked the beginning of a new favorite pastime- reading a different sort of genre, the kind that kept your breath bated, your mind panting, your tongue dry. It is almost 2 AM and you will be in so much trouble if anyone finds you. But no one does, and you forget where you are, and that you have school tomorrow. Currently, you are on the Orient Express, hurtling through the Turkish night, alongside the mustached Hercule Poirot, and there is a man murdered in his cabin. The murder of a grand and uncompromising  vengeance, a steel- cold revenge of 30 years, chills you, and when you finish the book, you creep out from under the covers and gingerly open the door halfway. You keep it open for the next couple of nights. Just in case.

Every season comes to a climax, and then gently spirals down, making way for the next. And it is often towards the end that the perfect expression of that season inhibits a single day and makes it the perfect exit statement. So, on a Sunday in late November, after two gloomy days of grey rain, the late morning was all of Autumn wrapped into one. Heading back from a job interview, I was going to wait for my friend to meet me in Central Park. It was going to take a while, and I had a paperback edition of The Screwtape Letters on me, which I had been reading with intense enjoyment for the past few days. The benches by The Pond were still speckled with leftover rain, but after some consideration, I sat down anyways. The Pond was its usual brownish green, framed by trees with their sunburnt orange, burgundy and red foliage, standing proud against the backdrop of the skyscrapers.  For the next hour, in the clasp of a bold and hot sun, I sat there, reading, surrounded by the chatter of Chinese tourists and passed by New York joggers in Nike sneakers and sunglasses. So there I was, slightly wet, reading about temptation, Heaven, and Hell, mango flavored gum in my teeth, its taste strong on my tongue- and it all was perfect.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s