December 31, 2009

Things that matter: The Electric Brae

I like to think of myself as a fairly non-materialistic person.

When people ask me what I want - for birthdays, for Christmas - I tend to just say that I don't need anything, that I have put myself in a place where I can simply buy the few things I want and don't really want to have too many things around that don't really matter to me.

I love music and books and movies, but I love enjoying them, not having them around me.  I don't want to own most book; I just want to read them and then pass them along.  I don't want to have six hundred cds on my shelves; I just want to have the music stored in my computer so I can enjoy it when I want to.  And there are very few movies that matter enough to me to have the DVDs on my shelves (the Kevin Smith collection, in fact, is probably going to hit the road soon because I haven't watched any of those films in at least half a year - most in more than a year now).

But there are a few things that I own that matter to me.

Today I begin what is likely to be an irregular series of posts (kind of like the A Glimpse series of posts a year or so ago).

So that book is called The Electric Brae.  It's by Andrew Greig.

It's a good book, but that's not why this book matters to me.

It's not even the story itself that really matters to me.

To tell you why it matters to me, I have to provide a little backstory about this very book - not this story, not Andrew Greig's tale, but this very copy of the book.

I began dating The Girl when I was we were both in high school.  We were both juniors, but I was a year younger than she (something about me skipping a grade).  We dated that junior year but then parted over the summer - nothing definite, nothing announced, just didn't date.

We picked things back up during our senior year and stayed together throughout the summer, parting only when she headed to France for a year and I to Wabash for four years.  Throughout that year, we wrote to each other and stayed in a very long distance relationship.

She came back to the US - and to me - that next summer, and we dated until Thanksgiving of that school year, my sophomore year at Wabash, her freshman year at Indiana University.  During the first week of that school year - while I was still dating The Girl - an idea birthed itself in my skull, something that I had never considered before and that seemed to have been rattling around in my brain for a while: I needed to go overseas.

I don't know whether I needed to go overseas because I wanted to prove to The Girl that I was every bit as worldly as she or whether I simply wanted to share that experience with her or whether I just wanted to see something more than Southern AND Central Indiana in my world or what, but I had to go and set things in order so that I could spend my junior year in Scotland while still staying on track for a four year undergrad experience.

Plans were made for my year at Aberdeen University, and things rolled along nicely until The Girl and I parted ways - she initiated the parting - over Thanksgiving Break of that, my sophomore year.

I will admit to having had a pretty miserable second semester of that year, moping around, being decently depressed, and just generally having had my first significant heartbreak.  It's nothing that isn't dealt with by pretty much every person in the world at some time or another, but I can only say that in hindsight.  At the time, I was devestated and acted like it.

By the end of that sophomore year, I had gained a solid thirty or so pounds over where I was when I left high school and was in a pretty awful state.

But I soldiered on and kept with my plan to head overseas.  I'd prove...something...who knows what, but something to her and myself and...well, everybody else.

That summer I played tennis three or four nights a week, ate right, and dropped most of the weight that I'd gained in those first two college years.  I was running after three- and four-year-olds as a YMCA kinderkamp cousenlor and reading voraciously to pass the time.  Every week or so, I would wander the stacks of the public library, choosing books almost at random - because the covers intrigued me, because I'd heard of the author, because the flap description sounded fun.

And I picked up this copy of The Electric Brae.

I picked it up based on nothing more than the intrigue of the cover and the subtitle: a modern romance.

And I devoured the book.

I turned out that the book was set in Scotland, even making detours through Aberdeen, my soon-to-be hometown.

And the book was about a romance that had taken numerous turns and hitches, love never dying but simply shifting and changing over time.

And I loved the book.

When I was in Scotland, I found the book at the public library in Aberdeen and recommended it to The Best Man - who didn't necessarily love the book, admittedly.  And every time I was near a bookstore, I would stop in and ask whether they had acopy that I could buy.  None did, and I came home still having that void on my bookshelves.

Wen I returned to Southern Indiana that June, I began to date The Girl again - with her encouragement, I might add - and happened upon the book again in my wanderings of the NAFC library.

In the book this time was a bookmark left by a previous patron.

The book mark had two phone numbers and two names on it: Kim 945-3251 and Lexi 246-3040.

I knew both of the names and the phone numbers.  They were my friends, but the bookmark wasn't in my handwriting.  It was in The Girl's.

I must've mentioned the book to her during my year in Aberdeen, and she must've picked it up and left the bookmark in it.

I can't in any way prove that we were the only two people to check the book out during that year, but in my head I knew we were.

And I never returned that book.

I eventually wrote a letter of apology to the library and included a check for a donation above and beyond the cost of the one book - a letter that they never acknowledged and a check that they deposited.

I've sadly lost that bookmark in the decade and a half since I last checked the book out, and I bought a copy of the book from Amazon when I finally found it posted - I had promised to buy a copy when I finally found it for sale, after all.

But I've never opened that purchased copy.

It's not The Electric Brae that matters to me.  It's this book.

The book is a good read.  Though understandably no one to whom I've ever recommended it has loved it like I love it, I highly recommend it and would happily loan you my purchased copy.

If you're curious, check out these reviews...


Crikey said...

Nice work, my friend.

PHSChemGuy said...

This series will be continuing in the next couple of weeks.