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  • Erika Nichols-Frazer

9-1-1: I Didn't Bring Enough Books.




I'm a reader. As a shy and awkward kid, I read at recess, and on the bus, and while other kids were playing and laughing and being normal. In college, studying literature and creative writing, I was always traipsing around New York with an oversized purse stuffed with three or five or maybe six books, and, of course, a journal or two (the month in which I read War and Peace did a number on my shoulder). Now, I usually have several books going at once, a poetry collection, short story collection, novel, or essay collection, maybe a memoir. Plus, I read a lot of literary journals. So many that I can never seem to remember where I read what and whom it was by. I will admit that my lit journal-reading has made by book-reading slower. I can read for most of a day without picking up a book, but I still like those rectangular objects in my hand. I've refused to get a Kindle/e-reader. I worship the book.


A lot of my memories of places I've been are through the books I read there. I have clear memories of reading Roald Dahl's Boy in the hammock at my great-grandfather's house in Rhode Island and On the Road and Big Sir by Jack Kerouac on the beach in Jamaica. I even read Anna Karenina on the beach in Tunisia. Some guy who came by to hit on me while I was reading (one of my biggest pet peeves - can't you see I'm more interested in my book than your cheesy lines??) asked me what it was about. Anna Karenina. "It's a love story," I said with a smile.


Whenever I pack, the books go in first. Last summer, we went (back) to Greece and I read eight books in twelve days. I'd brought four with me, thinking that should be fine, but when we missed a connecting flight and had to wait for hours in the Istanbul airport, I finished Friday Black - stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah - and Homegoing, a powerhouse of a novel by Yaa Gyasi. I had a lot of beach time on the Cretan sea ahead of me. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz and The Power by Naomi Alderman were clearly not going to cut it. The Istanbul airport had a handful of books in English. I snagged Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman and Roar, a short story collection by Cecilia Ahern, the latter of which I'd never heard of. I chewed through those on sandy-white beaches where servers delivered our Freddo Espressos (iced coffees) and we swam whenever we got hot. I found The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which I'd been meaning to read for a while, in the Take-One-Leave-One library in one of our hotels. On the way home, I got Hippie by Paul Coelho (I'd liked The Alchemist well enough) in the Athens airport and read it on the plane before turning to bad movies. It read to me like a pointless travel story about some hippies in the 70s. At least I got good sleep on the plane.


We snuck in a great ski trip to Colorado just as we were all realizing how serious this COVID-19 thing actually was. We were there March 3-12 of this year and it was starting to occur to us that maybe we didn't want to be in international airports. On that trip we spent our days on the mountain and nights in bars and restaurants, with a break to shower, nap, and read in between. I read The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine (which a good college friend had sent me, signed by the author with whom he was working) and Grand Union (stories) by Zadie Smith.


I went away last month for a two-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, about an hour away. Besides reading tons of literary magazines and submissions for an anthology I'm editing, I also read essays from The Collected Schizophrenics by Esme Wei Wang, and the novels The Giver of Stars by Jo Jo Moyes and My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.


This past weekend was the first time my husband and I had been away together since March. We went to Eden, VT, our favorite place to camp. We first went there eleven years ago, the summer we met. We had just made plans for dinner later in the week when he called me right back and said, "On second thought, do you want to go camping right now? I know a place." We've gone every summer since. It's on a peaceful pond from which you can see nothing but mountains. Not even a phone line or a highway in the distance. You can hear only bird calls, beaver tails slapping the water, and, sometimes at night, coyotes howling.


Over the years, I've read The Handmaid's Tale and Gentlemen of the Road and (re)read The Stand in Eden, in a hammock or on the dock or in a camping chair by the fire. This time, we were going for two days and I brought two books I was in the middle of and the latest one story. I failed to realize that I was mostly done with both books and quickly finished both the memoir All the Way to the Tigers by my former professor, Mary Morris, and Samantha Irby's latest essay collection wow, no thank you.


There were a few leftover paperbacks in the cabin we were staying in, a Michael Crichton thriller and a book about Princess Grace. Not particularly interested, and having a dead phone with no service anyway, I was forced to sit and observe. I sat on the dock, feet dangling over the edge but not touching the water, which was way down from previous years. I watched the water glimmer in the sun and heard a kid shout about catching a giant fish across the pond. I watched the fire my husband built, the embers pulsating with heat, wood cracking and popping. We went for a hike, our two dogs leading the way, darting between trees and chasing chipmunks.


While I love getting lost in books, I also appreciate getting lost in nature, having no clock or to-do's besides collecting more wood, even with nothing to read. Books provide escape from reality, but, sometimes it's worth tuning into what's around you.

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