With the full onset of a Chicago winter my fair-weather biking has given way to bus riding. In the nearly hour-long commute to my office I’ve had abundant time for reading, a favorite pastime of mine. I am more caught up on my Time subscription, yes, but in recent weeks my focus has turned to my true literary love, the contemporary novel.
Last week I dove headfirst into Khaled Hosseini’s latest, And the Mountains Echoed. Having read his other bestselling, widely acclaimed novels (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns) I knew I was in for a compelling experience. Compelling, indeed. The interwoven plot lines combined with an engaging exploration of family relationships—biological and chosen, loving and harsh, present and absent—to pull me into the developmental trajectories of a rich cast of characters. Hosseini engages immigrant life, the ugly realities of war, and systems of oppression that extend across generations in this significant work of fiction.
After finishing the book on Friday night I felt aimless, not quite sure what to do next or how to spend my time. My other typical activities (ahem, TV watching) paled in comparison to the plot lines that occupied my brain. All day Saturday I felt lost, like some important piece of my world was missing. I woke up Sunday morning still thinking about the characters and the interwoven plot lines. Instead of getting ready for church I spent time diagramming the ways that each chapter connected with the next.
Sunday evening, still feeling lost, I tried to find another book to read to distract me, to fill the void that Hosseini’s novel left. I picked a short paperback called The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Thanks to a snowy two-hour commute home on Monday night I finished the novel in two days. It was a quick read, and the ending—oh the ending…
As I finished the last paragraph, though, I felt like I’d just ended a rebound relationship. I cared about the book and its characters, and I enjoyed my time with it. Yet, it was not true love, not like And the Mountains Echoed. It served a purpose for a time, but I won’t wake up thinking about it or carry it with me as I go about my day.
I’m not one of those people who believes in finding “the one” when it comes to romance. I’m not one of those people who believes in finding “the one” when it comes to books, either. However, And the Mountains Echoed was certainly “a one,” and I’m now on an active search for another “one,” another reading experience that pulls me in and holds me tight, that connects at some deep place inside of me.
As I continued to disentangle myself from my Hosseini-inspired daze I pulled another book off the shelf, this one Mindy Kaling’s comedic memoir-ish story. In my short time reading on the train, I realized this book was more like that guy I went on a blind date with once: nice enough, with a lot to offer someone...who is not me.