You may have noticed I am reading Under the Tuscan Sun, for quotes have shown up here, and on my tumblr. I can’t wait to take another picture of some good Italian food I’m having with way too much wine, so I can post it on Flickr with another quotation there. I resolve to finish reading it before the week is over, feeling certain that Under the Tuscan Sun has finally come to me for its second time.
You’ve experienced this too, I’m sure. Books can come to you a number of times. The good ones make it to three times or more. “Good ones” are those meant for you. The author was merely obliging, unknowingly and obediently listening to one of your guardian angels as they sat on the author’s shoulder, or whispered in their ear at night when dreams came.
A book’s first time
There’s a tug or calling of some kind first. Perhaps a recommendation, perhaps because an author’s name keeps coming up, a pleasing kind of literary nagging at you, or perhaps the tug was as simple, as right and as impulsive as having the jacket catch your eye when you’re killing time in a bookstore or airport newsstand and have nothing else to read.
Under the Tuscan Sun was already well known to me when I finally bought it at the “just buy it already” pricing of the Costco tables, and because there was no other book there to usurp its place in my shopping cart — I have this rule now that I’ll only buy one book at a time; it’s achievable enough. I used to promise myself I wouldn’t buy any more books until I’d read all the ones I already have, but that was completely unrealistic, and I broke that rule all the time. I now understand that answering a book’s calling and actually reading it are two separate things. Having stacks of books that you haven’t read yet is more than reasonable: It’s the natural way of the literate world, and who am I to buck the system?
You have to buy it or borrow it for a book’s first coming to you to be complete. And if you’re wondering, no, I haven’t seen the movie starring Diane Lane, and yes, I’m reading the paperback where her picture is on the cover, looking thin, young, tanned, and “oh, I hate her so much right now.” My unrestrained jealousy keeps me from downloading the movie on iTunes, which I want to do, but won’t in that stubbornness I have about getting this book to come to me its second time first.
Movies about books are supposed to be seen sometime between the book coming to you its second and third time.
A book’s third time
The third time is when you reread that book with a different calling being answered. You have a question in your soul, and although you’ve already read the book, you suspect your answer was there, somewhere within its pages, and you missed it the first time through, because you were reading it for a different reason. Books have repeat delivery systems: that’s just one of the reasons books are such a bargain.
I don’t know if this rule, that you must read the book and then watch the movie, is also in the natural way of the literate world, but it should be. When you think of Under the Tuscan Sun, you should think of Frances Mayes first and Diane Lane second, or you screw up the second time the book comes to you. I’m quite sure that even Diane Lane would agree, for how could the movie possibly be made, and then be done well, if she didn’t read the book first?
I’m getting to the part about a book’s second coming to you, but these asides are important.
A book’s second time
I’ve started, and not finished this book a few times already. I’ve even taken it on plane trips across the Pacific Ocean (which take me at least 5 hours’ worth of perfect-for-reading time) more than once, only to leave it unopened each time in that pocket of my carry-on bag where my Kindle now reigns as Attention King. I’ve even taken it before I had a Kindle. Truth is, I’ve had this book, unread, an awfully long time. I’ve cheated with it, skipping the cooking chapters because I don’t cook unless I have to, and still not finished it.
And of course all of this has nothing to do with the quality of the writing. There was good reason Under the Tuscan Sun sat at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List for such a long time, and that a movie was made about it. It sits at #11,625 out of the ka-jillions of books Amazon.com sells, last time I checked.
This is the time you were supposed to be reading it, and your guardian angel (or whatever divine providence you believe in) knew it all along.
With Under the Tuscan Sun, that second time is now for me, because I want to move away from the house we live in, and into a new one. I love my house, always have, but it’s time. That’s all, it’s time, and so I’ve started looking. No new place in mind yet, just a resolve for more wayfinding, and a goal shaping up that we (me, and my family) will spend our next winter holidays somewhere else. Somewhere new.
In my case, Italy has nothing to do with it, though I can see why Frances Mayes and her Ed may eventually be sainted in Tuscany. I’m glad I’ve already been there, though many years ago, so I don’t mix signal with noise, as musically beautiful as that noise might be, for I loved Italy too. And Tuscany, while there. I also don’t feel up for a huge house restoration or the ambitious farming they tackled, having a more mobile and somewhat minimal lifestyle shift in mind. What I do feel, is that pull of shifting your sense of place, open to the possibility you will change, like in her chapter, Turning Italian.
That’s the magic of books, isn’t it. That so many different people can read the exact same words and come away with dozens of answers to scores of different tuggings.
False starts are false for good reason
So in other words, all those false starts you may have had with a book, starting to read it in between its first and second time coming to you, and not finishing it, were perfectly fine in the grand scheme of things.
Isn’t that comforting to know?
Here are snippets from the part I just finished. Marked up with a highlighter, confidently knowing that finding these words are even more testament to this being the right time for my second time” after years in my house, will I really be brave enough to leave it behind?
I’m packing for my flight home from Rome when a stranger calls me from the United States. “What’s the downside?” a voice asks on the telephone. She’s read an article I wrote in a magazine about buying and restoring the house. “I’m sorry to bother you but I don’t have anyone to discuss this with. I want to do something but I don’t know exactly what. I’m a lawyer in Baltimore. My mother died and””
I recognize the impulse. I recognize the desire to surprise your own life. “You must change your life,” as the poet Rilke said. I stack like ingots all I’ve learned in my first years as a part-time resident of another country””
The woman on the other end of the line has somehow, through the university, obtained my number in Italy. “What are you thinking of doing?” I ask this total stranger.
The islands off the coast of Washington, I’ve always loved them. There’s this place for sale, my friends think I’m crazy because it’s all the way across the country. But you go by ferry””
“There’s no downside,” I say firmly.
~ Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun
What about you? What book is now coming to you its second time?
Do you know why, or do you simply know that this will be when you finish it, and that you’ll figure out why you did later?