An endorphin-emitter. A prayer bead. A Roman candle. A dumbbell. A garden-variety pen-holder. In my mental universe, these disparate objects represent classes of books on my bookshelves. My paperbacks and hardcovers fall go into one or the other of these checkboxes.
There’re some novels—typically, it’s almost always is a work of fiction—that have the same effect on my mind as endorphin, pumping instant happiness into my system. A volume from the “Harry Potter” series tends to instantly leaven the monotony of life and refresh my tired mind.
Certain books like the “Life and Times of Michael K,” by J.M. Coetzee, make me want to drive out in my car at night, to a desolate farm, stare up at the inky sky, and meditate. They’re the “prayer beads” of my collection. It’s either the profundity of their plots, a single thought, or a dialogue, in them which takes my mind to a higher plane.
To borrow a phrase from “On the Road,” by Jack Kerouac, some “burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” These, I label, the “Roman candles.”
They’re never boring. “Nickel and Dimed,” by Barbara Ehrenreich is one such book.
While nearly all reading nourishes the mind, it’s the “dumbbells” that keep me intellectually fit. They tone the perception, and cut back the flaccidity of thought. An example would be “The Post-American World,” by Fareed Zakaria.
Lastly, there are books like “Under the Tucson Sun,” by Frances Mayes. Like a “garden-variety pen-holder,” they’re plebeian all the way. They’re ordinary stories, written ordinarily, for ordinary people. But place them in a cozy study, in the company of an attractive table lamp and a row of good books, and then they don’t look so bad.