I am a person of few hobbies, but many obsessions. The latter usually involve reading books about various topics. One of the best compliments I got from a fellow bookseller was when he poked his head into the breakroom, asked what I was reading (which is the only acceptable thing to say to a bookseller on break other than, “the bookstore is on fire, take the books from your hold shelf and run”), and said, “I can never guess what you’re going to be reading.”
I’m still stuck on winter and the Arctic when it comes to my reading (a recurring obsession, see also Siberia and Antarctica). My most recent book-devouring rampage has taken me to Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World. I love it thus far, and I’m a little more than halfway through. It is 1880-something, and we have an artist’s daughter, a naturalist who loves birds and is newly married. We have her husband, a man who leaves his happy marriage unhappily to explore the fictional Wolverine River in Alaska. We have letters, journals, and a bit of the modern day. The characters are good, the writing is excellent, the mythology* works, and I’m in love.
[*I use the word mythology guardedly. One character questions a First Peoples group for believing that women were once geese. Another retorts, “So women being made from a rib makes more sense?”]
Reading about 19th-century adventurers and woodsy types makes me think about my own little travelers journal. My little piece of leather with elastics that hold notebooks and folders is durable enough for my daily travels, though it would not stand up to Alaskan exploration (for one thing, the explorers probably would have tried to eat it in the early spring). I love books that bring me back to journaling. Ivey’s characters are so alive to their surroundings that it makes me alive to my surroundings. They write and think. I write and think.
The Alaskan explorers travel up the ice of the Wolverine River because it is the only clear(ish) path through the wilderness. When the leaves are gone, I can see the local river from my desk. It used to sparkle in the afternoon sunlight, but now that there is snow on the ground and it too is freezing up, it is harder to see.
I did not have to travel home along the ice highway (among other things, northerners know how to plow). But the asphalt highways weren’t simple either. Traveling for Christmas is hard on my psyche. It’s hard on anyone’s psyche. Perfectly well-adjusted people (if they exist) begin to feel mentally ill. Those of us with minor mental illnesses feel more ill. Etc.
But I am glad to be sitting at my desk, writing in sight of the river I only have to travel in my mind. I’m glad for the obsessions (books, stationery, and now, damn you Economical Penster, fountain pens) that bring me back to the page, and now that you’re here, make me feel less alone.