I don’t care about politics, so why have I been crying for three days?
When there are things I don’t want to think about, I think about books. Emma Watson (of course it would be Hermione) is hiding copies of Maya Angelou’s Mom & Me & Mom on the New York subway. That’s the headline I cling to.
On November 10th, I spent 66 NZD in a bookshop to make myself feel happy. But seeing as none of the five books I bought had been written by Maya Angelou, I followed this new inspiration (with all the short attention span attributed to my generation) to my library’s website, where I scrolled through the ebook selection.
I admit that my terribly liberal, liberal arts education did not include any Angelou. After her death, I checked out I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from the library, but the due date came and went with the bulk of the book unread. I had gone in wishing to be reading a distantly derivative sibling of the book, Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore, and I have to say, the two stories don’t bear much resemblance.
On the library page, Letter to My Daughter hooked me with the description, which included a quotation from the book: “I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native Americans and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.”
It was over in less than a day, every word inhaled, every electronic page turned, sometimes more than once as I snapped screenshot after screenshot (I haven’t quite figured out how to electronically highlight yet). I read it on a two-by-four inch screen, the font about double the size of what my eyes need because I don’t know how to adjust it.
At this point in my life, with the distractions of Netflix and YouTube, I worry that I’m more addicted to buying books than reading them. But this one I finished true to my word-addict origins.
I have all the gadgets—the iPad, the e-reader, the iPhone, et cetera. But when I’d read the last words, I needed to hold this book, hug it to my chest, highlight and underline compulsively. I set out on a pilgrimage this morning.
New Zealand doesn’t have many publishing houses. Most of the books sold are shipped in from overseas—Australia, the good ol’ US of A. Books are expensive, used and new. But that didn’t matter. Because once you need a book, you really need the book, can’t stop until you have the book.
If you are ever in a time of crisis searching for Maya Angelou in Wellington, here are the stones to leave unturned, although each shop is well worth a visit for its own sake:
They’ll probably have it. They usually do. But someone just bought the last copy and it will be at least a week to ship it in from Australia, maybe more at this time of year. Thanks a bundle, Christmas.
Arty Bees Books Ltd.
Used bookstore, oh dear. Doesn’t seem likely. They have Caged Bird and one other I haven’t heard of. I ask the lady at the font just to be sure, but no dice.
Instead I bought a book of Maori myths because the artwork made me feel okay.
“How do you feel about the election, then?”
Not okay, that’s for sure. I’ve been betrayed by my accent and signature required for the credit card purchase.
“I’ve been crying for three days.”
“So are you going back?”
Well that’s a question, isn’t it?
I jaywalk across the wet street to the storefront. There’s an entire shelf devoted to Angels. I don’t go in.
Calendars don’t end in armageddon, you know. There’s always another page to turn. Just ask the cockroaches.
New bestsellers. Nope.
Speaks for itself.
The university bookstore. Surely, you’d think? Where else would it be? No, not in stock? Oh, good thing I walked up that hill then, just to check.
Rain pours down on me as I admit defeat, and I go to the dark metaphoric space where this has to be a sign, a portent of things to come. No, Julia, sometimes a raindrop is just a tempest.
There’s an analysis I do of every place I visit: an average of cost of living, general feeling, how hot it gets, and number of bookstores per minute on a walk through the city center. It is a terribly scientific system.
At this moment, I’m not satisfied with my accounting of Wellington, but I still have three more shops to check, three more stones I’ll turn. But then I’ll just order it shipped to my parents’ house to keep the rest of my books company until I turn back.
I didn’t get what I wanted. I put in the work, I hunted and searched. Still I got something else, but for better or far, far worse, I’m still going to do the best I can with what I have now.
Because I don’t have the book, the physical pages, but the words are still there, and I’m carrying them around in my pocket. Please enjoy them with more cat photos from my travels. Because cats.
She’s speaking to us.