The Plague

It started as a tickle, an annoyed bee trying to get our attention until, finally, it swooped in, stinger first and left, in its wake, three people with boxes of tissues and cups of honeyed tea.

The doctor’s words sounded far too tame for what we were feelings. “Virus.” “Ear infection.” “Something that’s going around.” I wanted to hear, “A touch of the plague.” Instead, we were given a speech about liquids and rest, antibiotics and cough drops. We were sent home where we huddled together on the couch, sharing germs and blankets while the first week of the year passed us by.

While I’m never too far from my beloved romance novels, I am–as most writers are–a voracious reader. My mom used to tease that I’d read the back of a cereal box if I couldn’t find a book–and she wasn’t wrong. Growing up in a house without television and where books were our primary source of entertainment, I read everything I could get my hands on. From slim volumes of poetry to massive tomes outlining the downfall of the Russian aristocracy to tell-all biographies of the stars of classic films, I devoured them with a hunger that could never seem to be abated.

Everyone told me, when I graduated high school, that I’d have less time to read as an adult but I ate through books like the hungry caterpillar, consuming novels and nonfiction alike. When my ex-husband and I moved in together, one of our first fights was over my reading habit. He couldn’t understand why I’d read when there were other things to do. I couldn’t understand why reading a book wasn’t the first thing on his list.

When I got pregnant, veteran mothers told me to enjoy my books before the baby came because afterwards, I wouldn’t have time to read. I argued there was always time to read and ignored their smug looks. My son was born and I was right. There was always time to read. I read short stories while pumping, novels while laying on the couch with my baby sleeping on my chest, and children’s books while he played at my feet. When my daughter was born, I read as I nursed her, reading passages out loud in a hushed voice while the house slept.

It makes sense, then, that my children are also readers. I see the same fanatical fire burning in my son’s eyes when he starts a series, the same covetous look on my daughter’s face when presented with a shelf of unread books. Which is why, when we were sent home sick, we found ourselves sprawled around the living room under blankets with a pile of books at our sides. Because there’s nothing quite as healing as a good story.

Joseph revisited his Goosebumps, dumping them in a pile next to the couch as he finished them. Elizabeth dived into her graphic novels, letting Raina Telgemeier be her guide. And I picked through my pile of “to be read” books, finding treasure.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but I’d argue sometimes you should do just that. I bought The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan because its cover called to me. The slate blue and watercolor flowers, the hidden items, the promise of something lovely. That the story and the writing were as beautiful as the cover, was a treat. The prose read like poetry, gently weaving an ever-so-slightly magical spell.

And as I closed the cover and smoothed my hands over the roses painted on the front, I sighed and felt that perhaps having the plague is not as bad as all that if I get to read something divine.

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