Of the five copies of your favorite book in your bookcase, only one is actually for reading. It’s dog-eared and highlighted. Its spine is malleable and no longer cracks when you open it. Pages fall out in some spots and flutter to the ground like leaves, your book nearing its worn and weary winter. You would tape them in – you’ve got that invisible tape that’s so much less obvious than stupid opaque Scotch tape – but you worry plastic surgery on a collection of battle wounds would somehow make the memory of reading it for the first time harder to recall.
The other copies fulfill various emotional necessities you’ve convinced yourself are absolutely integral to your all-encompassing conceptualization of this book. One is a first edition hardback. One is signed, although you weren’t present at the signing and instead found it – you swear to God – glowing in a ray of dust-infused sunlight shining in from the used book store window, pointing you right to the spot. You opened it gingerly, traced your finger over the signature, smelled it, hugged it, and bought it gladly. It now sits next to your twenty-fifth anniversary copy, your first edition British hardback print, your various paperbacks that have been gifted to you because everybody knows this is your favorite book, and the copy you bought that is identical to your oft-read copy because you know it’s on its last legs and you’ll have to perform a complex burial ceremony sometime very soon.
You’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve read it – somewhere either nearing or well exceeding five burjillion, probably. It doesn’t matter; it’s no longer a story you’ve read. It’s a memory of an experience. It’s an event in your life. It’s something that, if asked, you could summarize with as much warm nostalgia as you would use to describe that first touch, first kiss, first “I love you.” You start talking and have to pause, think, smile, remember, and figure out how in the hell you’re supposed to describe something that has so firmly anchored itself to your synapses that at times you cannot distinguish between your fact and its fiction.
The first read felt like falling in love. At times your breath caught in your throat, your hand instinctively found its way to your heart, sometimes you cringed and looked away because it really hurts to like something this much but damn it’s just so good. You felt torn between screaming “OH MY GOD WHOLE WORLD, READ THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW. RIGHT RIGHT NOW” out your window, and hiding it away in a locked box in your closet because you feared sharing this new exciting thing with anyone else, a nervous mother afraid to hand off her newborn to the in-laws. The second read was like conquering the village of some heretofore virgin native tribe. Now it is yours. It’s changed forever, A Book You’ve Read Twice, of which there aren’t many, never again able to occupy the mental space of some book you’ve merely read. You name it, because you’re the Conquistador. I dub thee my favorite book! You kiss it on the spine, feeling a sense of ownership that part of you knows is totally unjustified because owning a thing does not mean owning its, you know, essence. Or whatever. The thing of the thing. Something Braveheart-y about taking our lives but not taking our freedom.
Subsequent rereads are comfortable, lived-in, lying in bed naked with the other half of your committed relationship and not talking, just breathing. You pull it off the shelf every few months and crack it open. It yawns the rest of the way on its own, its cover like an eroded buttress that is no longer able to support its own weight, opening its gaping maw in a smile as you smile down on it in return. Your highlighting is almost invisible now, but that doesn’t matter; you remember all your favorite bits anyway. You no longer need it like you need a shot of whiskey before a nerve-racking social encounter, or you need a goddamn nap right goddamn now or you’re gonna die. You just have it. It’s there, and always will be. You read it again not out necessity, or nostalgia, or guilt, or really even desire. You read it again because you breathe. You read it again because you squint when looking into the sun. You read it again because that’s what you do. But it is a habit born not of ennui. It is a routine you are more than happy to perform.
Ten years on, you’re not who you were but it is, which gives you some hope that maybe you’re not as fickle as you fear you might be. I mean, ten years is a hell of a substantial relationship. In the span of ten years you’ve had all sorts of opportunities to move on, grow apart, find something newer younger better sexier. But here you are, still together after all this time. Really, it’s the least you can do to stick around. Your favorite book changed the way you thought, talked, and loved. It was an island of constancy in a tumultuous sea, there for you to open and glance at if ever you just needed reminded of familiarity. You love it for what it did to you. You love it because when you hold it, heft the familiar weight of it, it feels like it loves you back.
You slide it out of its spot again, roll onto your back on the couch again, tuck your knees up to your chest and rest the book on them again, and run your weary eyes over the pages you no longer have to read, but simply remember.