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Serendipity: Discovering New and Miraculous Reads

Every reader has his or her own way of picking out books. Many people are methodical about it, they choose books by focusing in on authors that they like, or as they are recommended by people that they trust: friends, critics, authors, newspapers, blogs, book stores.

Then there are those of us that wander aimlessly down the aisles of bookstores and libraries, dragging our fingers across the spines and judging books by their covers. Some of us like books of certain sizes, certain page-lengths, certain colors, or certain titles (based on length, font, phrasing, or meaning). Often it’s some sort of mismatch of a few of those reasons.

But sometimes, it just feels like magic. A book catches your eye for whatever the reason, and it just feels like the right time for this book. You pick it up and it feels right. It sends a tingling feeling up your arm. It feels like planets have aligned and everything has fallen into place. It’s perfect. It’s fate.

It’s serendipity.

… Okay. So I’m being a bit melodramatic. But if you’re an avid reader who’s ever purchased or checked out a book spontaneously, sans recommendation, then you probably have an idea of what I’m talking about.

And what makes it better, is when that book is everything that you could have hoped for it to be, and then some.

My version of this story happened about four years ago, most of the way through my freshman year of college. I picked the book out on a whim. It caught my eye. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt an itch of a suggestion tugging at me. For whatever reason, I remember thinking that someone had once suggested it to me. I couldn’t remember exactly who, but I had an idea.

I read Good Omens in 3 days. Three days of classes and reading. The book came with me to the dining halls, where I ate alone, nose buried. I stretched out on my bed in a miniskirt, legs covered in a light blanket because the air felt better on my legs in the sweltering June heat than heavy jeans or sweatpants. I couldn’t put it down. I laughed out loud, I smiled, and I felt this warmth in my stomach that filled me up and made me happy through my isolation. It was exactly what I needed. I loved that book. I still love that book. It’s always what I need. I listen to it when I can’t sleep. I loved that book so much that my ex got me a first-edition, signed copy for my birthday.

When I went to tell the girl who, at that point, I was sure had recommended that book to me, she told me that it hadn’t been her. “But isn’t it great? I just finished it too.

What else can I call it? It was serendipity.

So, there’s my story. What’s yours?


The Books That Stay With You

Yesterday I saw the new movie, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. I thought it was fantastic! (Obviously, any of you who’ve read it or know what it’s about know that it was an emotional roller coaster. I cried probably a dozen times, if not more; but in a good way.)

But during the movie, I had an epiphany.

I realized that the books that really impact the most you are the ones that you can remember reading. Five years after reading the novel for my high school creative writing class, I can still vividly recollect the experience of reading it. I couldn’t remember almost anything about the story or the plot, aside from the bare bones basics. But I could remember reading it.

I was on vacation with my family to San Louis Obispo as part of my college tour. We were staying at the Apple Farm Inn. (Which is extremely charming and wonderful, I highly recommend it!) I very distinctly remember laying on my twin bed with the flower bedecked sheets that complemented the very similar wallpaper. I remember crying as I read a scene where Oskar and his mother confronted one another with their grief. The memory is still so vivid, it’s unbelievable.

I have similar memories with all of my favorite books.

I remember finishing The Lord of The Rings in the eighth grade. I remember closing my giant 3 book anthology with appendices, after having carried it around with me for almost a year. I was in the car, headed to Glendale for acting lessons, and I closed the book slowly and set it down at my feet. I looked down at my empty hands and wondered what I would do with them after the months of toting the giant book around. They felt suddenly light, and I felt like I was having to give up my security blanket.

I remember not being able to put down Good Omens, and sitting on my bottom bunk in my dorm room on a sweltering June day in my light blue miniskirt, which meant that I had to cover up with a blanket, despite it making me hotter. I couldn’t bring myself to go downstairs and eat because I was so enthralled in the fates of these characters as the apocalypse approached.

I remember begrudgingly beginning to read the first Harry Potter book while sipping a Cherry Icee from Burger King and waiting for my mother to pick up her clothes from the dry cleaner’s. I still have an oar-shaped stain from that one. And I remember coming full circle, and waking up with my face buried in my copy of the seventh novel as I powered through it sitting in my childhood bed.

I remember crying over my iPhone as I read Homer’s Odyssey, my first and only (so far) e-book, in my brand new King bed in my new apartment as I read Gwen Cooper’s sentiments about what she gained through the writing of the book as well as her experiences as a New Yorker during the tragedy of September 11th.

I could keep listing ad infinitum, but I think my point is clear. It’s the books that stay with you that count. It’s the books that are deeply rooted in your own personal experiences that have truly impacted your life. The experience becomes more about you than about the book, and that’s how you know it matters.