I finished a novel last night. Laid it down gently, like saying goodbye to an old friend. Sometimes I hate doing that. In books. And especially in life. Goodbyes leave a little part of me behind.
Tonight I'll begin a new novel. And I will never do so casually. When I pick up the book, I'll handle it like a precious gift. I'll settle down in my chair. Maybe a cup of tea beside me. Maybe my cat on my lap. I'll open the first page in anticipation. This world will be foreign to me at first -- like entering a new country or even a different century. Meeting people I've never known. I'll be a part of their lives and that world for a while. It's exciting and maybe even a little frightening.
The beginning chapters are like first encounters with anything new. It usually takes a while to become involved, to care. And if the plot meanders at first, and many people are introduced all at once, I'll struggle. I may have to turn back to discover who these strangers are. Novels let you do that -- without embarrassment. But sometimes I'm plunged into action on the first page and am immediately hooked.
Part way through, everyone comes alive. I know them intimately. I'm in the middle of that other world, these other lives. And the plot thickens, as they say. Those I care about fall in love. Fall out of love. Are in great danger. Fight battles in courtrooms. Worse, in wars. Hunt killers. Kill. Or are killed. They grow up. Grow wise. And I'm in that world and no longer in my comfortable chair.
Three-fourths of my way through the story, if it's action-packed and lives are at stake, I can't leave. What will the verdict be? Will the killer be caught? Will complicated issues be resolved? Will good triumph? Can it finally end "happily ever after"?
But unless it's extremely gripping, 50 pages from the end I begin to slow down. I don't want to leave this world just yet. I care about these people. It is hard to let them go. Slower, that is, unless the plot is full of suspense. The killer is about to murder again. The jury is still debating. The misguided lovers might just find each other after all. The struggle for life may win over death.
I used to love the suspense and sit up late to finish the last page, eyes blurry and wanting sleep. Sometimes I still do. But sometimes I can't stand not knowing, and I turn to the last page to end the tension. It's cheating, of course, and I normally don't condone it. But after the suspense is relieved, I can then read the rest without fear, savoring this world I've entered, and unlike real life, I know how it ends. When I finally reach the last page, it's difficult to close the cover and let it go.
May books never become obsolete and may libraries always beckon me inside to their treasures. So many books. So little time. If I watch television, I'm interrupted by endless commercials. If I see a movie, I have to stay with the pace. I can't slow it down or speed it up.
I'm in charge of a novel. Not the plot, but the way I experience it. I can put it down and suspend the action -- for an hour -- or even days. It will still be waiting. I can turn the pages faster and devour them. I can lose myself in the suspense. Or I can know the ending before the characters do.
Others may wish to choose Kindles, or computers, or whatever else may someday be invented. Right now there's this new book beside my chair. Waiting. May I never lose the anticipation of opening its cover and reading.
Cathy Tallady, a resident of Lewiston, is an avid reader who looks forward to her next novel.