Rabo Karabekian, the main character and narrator of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, when describing one of his paintings, explains that one of the painting’s figures is “studying” a newspaper “…very earnestly, in the hopes of learning what we would all like to know about ourselves: where he is, what is going on, and what is likely to happen next.” This passage reminds me of the time a friend loaned me a book on the premise I was like the main character – reading for an answer. He was right.
When I was living in San Francisco, I took full advantage of the city’s independent bookstores, especially the used bookstores. Dog Eared was my favorite – the smell of used books, the possibility that I would find a first edition, or that I may find a book with answers to put everything in perspective. I was in my early 20s and convinced that those were the years during which I would make the decisions which would direct the course of my life. I relied on books to inform my decision making. Sexual Politics; The Fire Next Time; Metamorphosis; The Handmaid’s Tale – I read to gain insight into how those with lives richer than mine had navigated their course.
I never found a book with all the answers – where I was, what was going on, and what would happen next. But I did find a freedom in how to think about the answers to the questions we all hope to learn. I read my way to a wider lens – a broader world view. I read my way to a place of more tolerance, a place where I accepted that not having all of the answers was just part of the process – the process of figuring out fulfillment.