I was having coffee with a friend a few days ago in a small local bookshop. We sipped our lattes surrounded by books stacked tightly on shelves six feet high. The fresh smell of newly bound books blended with the earthy scent of the wooden shelves; I breathed in deeply. Soon the constant pleas of my four-year-old to “play with me” and the cries of a hungry infant faded into the silence of all the stories waiting to be read. For me, books could always soothe and transport me even before the spine was cracked.
Although I am a writer, I find that my role as mother can often dominate not only my days but also my conversations. So as my friend and I discussed the best deal on diapers and the slightly disturbing mutation of our bodies post birth, another woman approached us. My friend recognizing her, smiled, and introduced me. Soon both women were discussing the books they were reading. My friend kindly mentioned that I had published a book.
After asking for the title, the woman offhandedly said, “I was going to write a book”. The rest of the sentence seemed to trail off as she placated her small child with a chocolate as he pulled on her arm. She gave us a wave over her shoulder and walked out, leaving her admission open-ended and unanswered.
It isn’t the first time that someone, upon learning that I wrote a book, responds that they could have, should have, wanted to, were going to write a book. And no matter how many times I hear it, I never know what to say. However, it always makes me wonder a couple of things.
One, why didn’t they write a book; how would they complete that sentence? I was going to write a book but I got busy, I had babies, I took a corporate job, I knitted a sweater from my cat’s fur, or I just found the whole process to be frivolous and not worth my time. And second, is it so easy to write a book? Is it something that one would do if only they could fit in a few extra minutes into their day? Are all these people likening the arduous process of years writing, editing, proofing and trying to perfect every word painfully placed on an overwhelmingly white page to a hobby simply never started?
I guess I am never sure whether I should sympathize for their lack of time or inability to write the great American novel they are sure exists within them or if I should take difference that what I have spent years doing is simply something that most could have done if only they hadn’t been so easily distracted by more interesting and important endeavors.
Of course, there is the possibility that most of these people are just trying to make conversation. And although I don’t think that everyone has a book they could write I do believe that everyone has a story. So maybe, as a writer, no comment is necessary; I just need to listen.
Causes Sherry Parnell Supports
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International