2010.02.17 Writing a column or reading Bohjalian? Which wins out?

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

OK, I admit it. I read more than 100 pages of Chris Bohjalian’s latest book, “Secrets of Eden,” instead of writing a column Monday night.

When David and I came home from the Observer office at 1 a.m. (a really late night for him, just the beginning for me), instead of pasting myself to the chair and cranking out a column, I read several chapters until suddenly it was 3:30 a.m. and I knew I was doomed.

It took me a while to get into the book. It’s that way for me with a lot of books. When I don’t know how the story is going to develop and I don’t know what’s important, what I should be paying attention to; when I have to read slowly to catch on to what’s going on, when I’m learning all the names and trying to figure out who’s who; sometimes I just lose interest, especially if I have to put the book down and I don’t get back to it right away.

I forget what’s going on, and because I haven’t invested enough time in the characters, it’s easy to let them lie there between the pages of the book. Not yet friends of mine, I don’t yet care about them. I am not cheering for them or getting angry at them. In short, I am not emotionally invested in them.

The truth is, I am not capable of getting too emotionally invested in a book when my worry meter is registering on my kids. No contact from Maddie, Ben and Sarah flying, Rosie and Taylor constantly cavorting with Mardi Gras parade go-ers—it doesn’t take much to divert my attention from why a minister might or might not have killed the abusive husband of the woman he, the minister, had been having an affair with—after the husband killed his wife.

(Hmm, that sounds like the plot of a tawdry paperback, not one of Bohjalian’s finest literary works.)

But then the worries leveled out.

Ben and Sarah had just returned safely to Miami after spending a few days with Rosie and Taylor during Mardi Gras season in New Orleans—including enjoying a crawfish dinner.

“We had 8 lbs. of crawfish, 1 lb. of shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, garlic and gumbo,” Ben e-mailed.

I don’t know why news of my children happily consuming mass quantities of seafood makes me happy, but it does.

 And, somewhere along the way, I realized that attending parades is not a high crime activity, so even though Rosie and Taylor seem to be present at every one of them, they are unlikely to get hurt.

But the real source of worry—Maddie—was available for a Skype chat on Sunday and I became more convinced after talking to her that she is fine and dandy on the secluded island of Adang off the coast of southwestern Thailand, snorkeling every day, running out of sunscreen and discovering the delights and joy of jam.

You might recall that Maddie has been a very picky eater from a very young age. (She carried her lunch and ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches every day of elementary school.)

Although not very high on the good nutrition scale, the addition of jam to her small repertoire of edible-to-her foods is a major milestone. But still, I’m thinking, “Jam? Snorkeling? For this you’re getting college credit?” 

So, although my entry into “Secrets of Eden” was slow, it’s now at the can’t-put-it-down stage—a bad place to be on a Monday night when deadlines loom and you’re a woman with little self-control.

It’s hard to be a woman of little self-control married to a man of great self-discipline, one who washes the pile-up of dishes on a Monday night before dinner when he has a meeting to attend and a myriad of stories to write.

The guilt can be crippling—but it doesn’t stop me from diving back into that book—or from contemplating joining Maddie for jam on that secluded island.

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