I think I'm probably just the sorriest excuse for a literature major that there ever was. Just ask my college roommate, Jen, who was a history/pre-med major, who studied ALL the time, and who used to chide me for not finishing all the books I was assigned.
Don't get me wrong, I loved my major. Loved it so much that when I was finished with my first four years, I went back for two more years of self-imposed torture. I love books, and I love reading them.
These days I actually finish them.
(Just a side chuckle here. When I told me ever-practical father that I had finally decided--after two previous majors--that literature was the one for me, he nearly blew a gasket. To this day we laugh about his reaction to the blessed news: "So, what are you going to do, read BOOKS for a living?!" Without missing a beat I said, "Yeah, Dad, if I have to.")
Often, when people find out that I majored in literature, or that I taught writing for a while, or that I like to read, they will ask me if I've read this or that book. Usually I just smile and shake my head and say, "No, I don't think I've read that."
Because chances are, I haven't.
Unless, of course, the book happens to fall in the chick lit genre of Sophie Kinsella or any one of the Miss Julia books by Ann B. Ross. Since having kids I haven't stretched myself all that much in the hard core literature area.
One book in particular, though, has continued to pop up in conversation over the past few years. How often I have felt like a complete dolt for not having read this book? How many times have people said, "I can't believe YOU haven't read that! You have to read it."
It's not that I hadn't tried to read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I had tried. I really had.
When the book first came out in 2001, I started to read it, but had to put it down for two reasons.
First, it's beautifully written, and when a book is beautifully written like this one is I have to take my time to savor each and every sentence--sometimes several times. The beauty of the language captivates me, truly, so it's laborious for me to read a book like that. A time-sucker, if you will.
At that point in my life I had three very small children--time was being sucked from me in many other ways.
And the second reason is because about 50 or 60 pages into the book something really terrible happens. Something so tragic that you just wonder how on earth this family is going to rise above the challenges it now faces. Honestly, my heart couldn't take it. The sadness of it all, the desperation, just got to me, and I stopped reading the book.
Leif, I'm so sorry.
But this week, before I got the flu, I started reading it again. This time I was determined to finish it. And then God made it possible for me to have plenty of time on my hands to read it.
I have to be honest, the first 50-60 pages dragged for me, just like the first time I read it. Then I got to the terrible spot again, and I wondered if I could continue. My heart was starting to ache again.
But I pushed on, determined to figure out why so many people I know count this among their very favorite books of all time.
Yesterday, amid basketball games and family goings on, I read Peace Like a River. I read and I read and I read. Until I finally put the book down, like a victorious conqueror, at midnight. With tears running down my face. As a changed person because of this book.
You just have to read it.