The name of the book is “Love Works Like This,” and the author is Lauren Slater, a wonderful writer who lives in Massachusetts. I grabbed it off my bookshelf a few weeks ago to read on a seven-hour flight to Amsterdam.
I love reading on planes. It’s quiet and there’s nothing to do and no guilt that you should be doing something else, because you can either read or watch a movie or sleep or, OK, study, I suppose, or prepare for a meeting or a lecture. But I have never done anything that resembles work at 30,000 feet because I love the intermission from responsibility that comes with being up in the air, physically confined between Earth and infinity.
I don’t like the whole airport herding thing though — the long lines, going through security, waiting, waiting, then finally boarding. And I don’t like that planes are crowded and cramped and germy and there’s too often no food. Add a screaming baby, and air travel can be bad.
But with headphones, a good book, and a big box of Raisinets, if the baby is not yours, flying can be OK.
I used to be able to read at home the way I read now on a plane. After the kids were asleep. I’d retreat to the living room where there’s no TV, curl up on the couch (I liked Nonpareils then), and get lost in someone else’s life. I used to read all the time.
But I don’t anymore. I can’t concentrate at home. There are too many beeps and whirs and distractions and things that need to be done.
On a plane, or train, or at the beach, or on the porch of a summer getaway, there is nothing to be done. There is nothing but free time.
So in my airborne free time, I read “Love Works Like This,” a slim memoir about one woman’s decision to have a baby. It’s more poetry than prose, more philosophical than pragmatic, the kind of book that makes you pause as you read, that makes you think how much you miss good writing.
I was on page 33 when I came to a sentence that was underlined. And I thought, this must be my daughter Lauren’s book. My daughter had interviewed Lauren Slater a decade ago. She must have loaned me the book then.
Of course, I scrutinized the underlined parts, sure that I was getting an insight into what was important to my middle child. “The gift of life. What an odd expression, a still odder gift, this box of snakes and daisies.” Was it the thought that impressed her? Or was it the writing, the word choice, “snakes” and “daisies?”
The funny thing is, I would have underlined all the same things that she underlined. That’s what struck me. Every time I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ there was a pencil beneath the words.
I believed I was privy to my daughter’s deepest thoughts. I admit, I felt a little guilty, as if I were stealing peeks at her diary. But I continued to read anyway.
On page 132, tucked into the fold, was a yellow receipt for a waffle and a cup of coffee dated JUL08’02. I thought it was her receipt. But it wasn’t. It was from a restaurant in Monterey, Calif., where I go every year. It was my receipt. Which meant it was my book. And my underlining.
I was horrified. I read the book 10 years ago and forgot? How was that possible?
My grandmother used to do this. She would sometimes come to the end of a book and say to me, “I think I may have read this before. That ending seems awfully familiar.”
“But Nana,” I would argue. “How could you forget a whole book?”
“When you’re my age,” she’d say. And I’d stop listening because I was 8 and I was 10 and I was 15 and certain I could never be her age.
And now I am.
“Love Works Like This.” It’s worth reading twice.Beverly Beckham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.