by Bella Zuroski
This Christmas, my family all packed into the car and ventured three hours east through heavy Western New York snows to spend the day with my dad’s side of the family. After dinner, I curled up in front of the woodstove with Mona, my Aunt Ellen’s sleepy pit bull. After about an hour or so of typical after-dinner conversation, my cousin Gena’s husband Derek asked me if I had my pick for Best Book of the Year yet. I had no idea what he was talking about, and experienced a slight panic – was this a thing I should know about? Gena looked at me expectantly. She is an English professor, so I was sure she expected her English major cousin, a senior in college, to know about it.
Best Book of the Year was not the big, official “thing” I had imagined. It was a tradition started by my Uncle Greg (Gena’s dad), who passed away last spring. It’s simple: at the end of each year, he and his friends would all get together to discuss the best book they had each read that year. This was the first year that would come to a close without Greg at the helm, and I could sense that Best Book of the Year had gained extra significance because of that.
When I tried to come up with my pick, I felt embarrassed. Sure, I could name a heap of books I had read for class. But had I read anything else on my own outside of the brick walls of Payne Hall, Washington & Lee’s English building?
I will never forget the rainy afternoon when Greg handed me my first copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or the bright summer day when he sat down next to me on the old concrete stoop by the front door and gave me Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read those books day and night with no regard for sleep or any other apparent priorities. I had no cell phone buzzing in my pocket or plans to make – just the pure, unbridled delight of more pages to turn. As I struggled to come up with a Best Book of the Year that hadn’t been assigned on a syllabus, I realized how much I missed the little girl who used to get lost for hours, days, even whole summers at a time in the pages of a book.
As our lives get hectic, it is easy to forget how to take the time to get lost in a book. It starts to feel like there is no time for anything outside of our daily routine. Are you a college student, tired parent, professional, and/or someone who has to read a lot for your job or in your daily life? If you are, I am sure you know how flipping on the TV or playing another round of Candy Crush often seems easier than opening a book.
There is magic in language that cannot be found anywhere else. In the hustle and bustle of life, this magic can be easily forgotten. Greg was the person who really showed me what it means to be a reader. I think we all have our own Greg – not necessarily the person who taught us how to read the letters on the page, but the person who helped us to see the magic. Recently, I saw a post on his Facebook page that said, “Book of the year just isn’t the same without you.” When I clicked on this woman’s profile, Facebook told me that she lived in Seattle, Washington. Missing Greg, my heart swelled in bittersweet happiness when I thought that somewhere, somehow, he had crossed paths with this woman and shared that same magic with her. This Christmas, I received a very well timed reminder to never let that magic go.
Next year, I promise to have my pick for Best Book of the Year ready. Will you?