Shared Experiences

Ok, so this is enormous.  My esteemed and much admired son-in-law lives all the way out in California, three thousand miles and a couple of lightyears away from me, here in Central Florida.  We are separated by distance, states and rivers and mountains, time zones and the Continental Divide, age and gender and politics.  And yet I love him more than ice cream.  This fellow is dear to my heart.  And clearly, he loves my stepdaughter, because he stays married to her in spite of having two, count ’em two, -shall we say ‘challenging’? mothers-in-law.  As it is with most parents, it is an ongoing thrill for me to watch them organize their lives into workaday and parenting and being a happily married couple, a vibrant part of their community and productive members of society.  We love to see our children thrive.  But I’d like to think that even if I’d never met them, I would admire these people.  The fact that my son-in-law enjoys my company is hugely satisfying, and I am grateful for it.

During my visit to them last fall, I stole away with said son-in-law to do a bit of necessary shopping (I needed something protective for the wine bottles I intended to transport in my luggage) and he chose the time to show me the sights.  We stopped into the Jack London Square ‘First & Last Chance Saloon’ est 1883, and sat at a rickety table on a crooked floor and tipped back a cold one.  Steeped in literary wonder, we talked about my book clubs back in North Carolina and Florida and he suggested, much to my surprise, that we two have our very own book club.  Just the two of us.  I was reeling, and it wasn’t attributable to the architecture or the alcohol.  It was the notion that he’d be willing to share such an experience!  Reading a book at the same time, discussing chapters, talking about what the author must have been trying to convey and how it resonates with you, how it changes you (because books change you) is something that cements friendships and relationships in a way other things do not.  It is an intellectually intimate process.  And you know both yourself and your friend on a level not anticipated before you started.  So this.  This was big, all right.

I was delighted when he said we could begin with Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.  It’s a book I kept intending to read, but had not.  I was eager to begin, but you know how life is: it interferes with pretty much all your plans.  So here I am, months later, ready to start.

Meanwhile of course, there are those other two book clubs.  It’s winter now, so I’m in the Florida club.  It’s a long established group and they’ve been generous about including me.  The books are interesting, the process more formal than the fledgling Carolina group, but I enjoy both clubs for different reasons.  I’ve just gotten the next book for February in Florida.  It’s a biography and not particularly interesting to me, but I’m sure once I start reading, it will capture my attention.  Biographies are like that – I enjoy them.  It’s just not one I’d have chosen.  That’s the beauty of a book club, you never know what you’re going to get.

The Carolina book club chats online.  It’s one of my favorite things about them.  It’s very rarely about the books.  We save that for when the group gathers for discussion each month.  No, the online chat is typically very social.  We talk about our kids and household projects and the weather and vacations and share all sorts of silly memes, generally book related.  A woman recently shared a picture of a book cover with a moving story of reading that book to a sick friend.  The conversation was about the process of reading aloud to another person, and I was reminded how very much Larry enjoyed it when I’d read to him.  I never did read to him in the hospital.  When he was there, even for extended periods, even unconscious on life support, I never did read to him.  I just talked to him, as if everything was fine.  Rubbed his feet.  Combed his hair.  You know, stuff.  But not reading.  Now in hindsight, that would have been nice, too, but I have no regrets on this matter.  Conversation made it feel more normal, and more like he would wake up just fine, any moment.  So I didn’t read to him there.

I read to Larry at home.  We started rather incidentally, on a long night-time drive.  We were on the highway, far from a city, and radio stations were sporadic and static filled.  Larry said, “I don’t want to fall asleep.  How about finding something to read to me?”  And we had such a good time, I read whole books to him, on a regular basis.  It was way more fun than watching TV.  I’d read to him.  He’d rub my feet.  It was lovely.

So today, I finally got around to checking out Kitchen Confidential from the library.  I generally do this electronically, and read it on my iPad.  Today, two copies appeared on the screen: an ebook, and an audiobook.  Oh my.  I hadn’t thought about getting an audiobook.  But those things are chopped up and never quite what the author intended.  And if you’re reading, especially nonfiction, half the fun is trying to ‘hear’ the author as intended.  I noted the big red band across the audio version.  It said, “Unabridged!” And then, my breath caught in my throat, because underneath, in very small print, “Read by the author.”  By the author.  By Anthony Bourdain.  Anthony Bourdain, who died last summer, who I’m never going to get a chance to meet in person, who I admired so much, who would not mind one bit that I’m not using ‘whom’ in this sentence…   Well.  I clicked on the audio version.

Bourdain is going to read me his book.  Himself.  I won’t have to wonder which syllable or word he wanted to emphasize.  He’ll be doing it.  Every nuance of what he wanted to convey is going to be given to me, like a gift.  Like he’s talking, right to me.  Everything he wanted to tell, what he wanted me to know, he’s going to say.  Like a book club with two members, just me and Tony.  Like a long lunch.  Like old friends.

And then, to share all of this with my son-in-law.  I’m blown away.  This is going to be the richest experience!  I couldn’t wait to share it with you all.  Signing off, turning up the speakers, off I go, to Parts Unknown….