I was looking for something good to read, so I did what I always do and asked my friend Deanne for suggestions. Deanne is a crazy bookworm like I am. It was one of the things we bonded over when we met in graduate school: in our first music class together, she turned to me and asked, “read any good books lately?”
I had just finished one I really enjoyed so I loaned it to her. At the next day’s orchestra rehearsal, she walked up to me and handed me my book back. Uh-oh: I had the well-known bookworm fear of recommending a book you love to a new friend who doesn’t like it and therefore, won’t like you.
She quickly reassured me in her proper South African accent: “Oh, I loved it. I finished it overnight and now, I’m returning it to you. Do you perhaps have another book you’d also recommend?” She’s the only person I know who is a faster reader than me and I fell in Friendship Love right on the spot. We’ve been recommending books back and forth ever since, over fifteen years later.
Which brings me to last summer, when I texted her my usual lament: “Help. Need something to read. Whaddya got for me?”
She sent back a very long list. At the top was, “Anything by Louise Penny, pick one of her Gamache books. I just finished them and am now re-reading them from the beginning in French to work on my conversational skills.” (Yes, she’s that annoyingly smart. If she weren’t my dear friend, I’d have a hard time liking her.)
Later that same week, I was talking to a colleague of mine, another bookworm. During rehearsals we exchange book titles to one another, much like other people hand out tic-tacs or sticks of gum.
“Go get these books that are set in Three Pines,” said Ann. “Inspector Gamache or something, I forget the author. Look it up. There’s an awesome book about Gregorian Chants, you’ll love it.”
Wait, two trusted, nerdy bookworms telling me to read the same thing? I downloaded the first book to my Kindle that day and started reading right away. “So many characters,” I remember thinking in the first couple of chapters. “How on earth will I keep them all straight?”
I look back on that innocent moment of reading the first Gamache book with such longing, like an addict who remembers their first score: little did I know I’d be sucked in from the very first hit. How I wish I could travel back in time, grab myself by the shoulders, give myself a good shake and say, “SLOW DOWN! For the love of reading, slow down and savor each book! Each word! You think this series will last forever, but it won’t!”
But no. Foolish me did what every true bookworm will understand. (And please, I need a judgement-free zone in order to talk about this openly and honestly, people.)
I binged like a sugar-addict alone with a box of Take 5 candy bars. I inhaled that first book. And then, like any good addict, I went immediately went back to the source for more: Buy Now With 1-Click on Amazon.com.
I bought the next book in the series. And the next. And then, the next.
And so I kept clicking; buying; reading. Click, buy, read. These e-readers prey upon our weaknesses: our weakness to know what happens next; our weakness to get back to our fictional happy place, to the characters we’ve fallen in love with.
Some women hide new pairs of shoes that they couldn’t resist buying from their husbands, sneaking them into the house under the cover of darkness. I sneak new books into our home. In terms of book-buying, our marriage is built on a bed of lies: he knows I’m always in the middle of a book, but if it’s on my Kindle, as far as he knows it’s the same book. E-readers are the “Ashley Madison” method of sneaking around, literary style.
I read regular old books, too, of course, but I swear, the Kindle was designed for reading addicts such as myself. We don’t have to wait for the library to open in the morning; we don’t have to wait for our local, tiny, independently-owned bookstore to order the next book and call us when it comes in; we can just press a button and be reading the next book in under one minute!
There was an entire series ahead of me of eleven novels. I mistakenly thought there was no need to savor! No need to slow down! I convinced myself there was plenty left for me to read! So there I was, acting like I had a lifetime’s supply of Take 5’s, a ring of chocolate around my mouth, wrappers on the floor all around me, my hand in the bag and all the while, I was getting closer to the end.
I was also talking nonstop about the books to my husband. He said he hadn’t seen me this into a series in a while and it was true. I’m always reading, but sometimes, it’s just…meh. I’ll finish the book, but not really care about the characters, the setting, or the story. They’re fine, engaging for the moment and fun, but as soon as I’m done reading, the characters disappear from my life. This was different.
I fell in love with the fictional setting of the series, Three Pines. I wanted to move there. I wanted us all to move there. I wanted the characters to be my new best friends. My new extended family. Forget your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: these characters were like litmus tests of your personality types. I could relate to almost all of them, or knew someone just like them, or had parts of myself that were them. I began thinking about them as if they were real.
Please don’t tell me they’re not real! I need to think it’s possible to someday find myself unexpectedly in Three Pines, where I stop into the bistro and order a latte and homemade croissant from Gabri and Olivier.
And maybe, after I leave the bistro, Ruth will yell at me as I’m on my way to the used bookstore. Myrna will welcome me to her shop, recommend a great book for me to read and we’ll quickly become friends. She’ll even invite me to stay to dinner and then tell me, since it’s so late, that I might as well get a room at the Bed and Breakfast.
There, surrounded by marvelous antiques in my cozy room, I’ll sleep in the softest bed, with the fresh air of Three Pines blowing in the window that’s open just a crack. In the morning, I’ll awaken to the smell of the best breakfast in the world being prepared for me, from scratch, using all local ingredients.
And then, if I’m really lucky, someone will have been murdered in Three Pines overnight and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec will have come to town to solve the mystery!
Perhaps I’ll find myself in the middle of the investigation, needing to be interrogated repeatedly by Inspector Gamache and Jean-Guy? I’ll be required to stay in town until the crime is solved because I am a “person of interest.” Obviously, we’ll bond over the course of the investigation and share a hearty laugh and a great meal at the bistro when it’s all over.
Then maybe they’ll all realize that they absolutely need a classical and jazz musician in town! Someone who can give the children violin or viola lessons and play live music at the bistro during the long winter months! I will send for my husband and children and they will just up and move to Three Pines without a backward glance. We can buy the now empty, charming cottage of the person who was just– sadly — murdered. (I think that’s the only way to get into real estate in Three Pines: you just have to wait for someone to be killed.)
Back in the shared reality, my Kindle habit was getting out of control with this series so I went to the library to check out the rest of the books. I checked out three titles at a time, so there was always a book waiting for me on my nightstand when I finished one. It was literary gluttony of the finest. I raced to the end of the series and finished them all by the end of the fall season.
And then it hit me.
How I wish I had taken more time! I didn’t savor, I inhaled: I swallowed my food without even tasting it. Now I understood why Deanne went back to start at the beginning and re-read them all immediately: working on her conversational French, my ass. She was just despondent the series was over and so she dove right back in!
I should’ve heeded her unspoken warning. Or at least, spaced them out. What was I thinking???? I went into Book Withdrawal at the worst possible time: a cold, grey, isolating Chicago winter was looming. That’s the time of year when you need a stack of books the most! This series is the perfect antidote to Seasonal Affective Disorder—and I wasted it. Stupid, stupid, rookie mistake.
In my mourning, I looked up the author, Louise Penny, on Facebook. There were all sorts of folks on her site just like me, waiting to hear updates on Three Pines, on the characters, on WHEN THE HELL SHE WOULD FINISH THE NEXT BOOK. Ahem. While I was there, I also found a link to a bookstore in Quebec that sells souvenirs about the books. Intrigued, I clicked on the link. JACKPOT.
They sold an enormous mug, just like the ones that hold frothy lattes at the cozy bistro where everyone gathered in Three Pines. They even said VIVE GAMACHE on one side and had a drawing of the infamous three pine trees on the other. I needed it. That latte mug would be my very own, personal methadone clinic to tide me over till the next book came out. This mug would make it all better.
I looked at the price: whoa. I DIDN’T CARE. Then, I looked at the shipping cost: insane. I DIDN’T CARE. I ordered it anyway. I confessed my impulse purchase to my husband, like I was admitting to an affair with the mailman. He smelled my desperation and understood. The only person who didn’t understand what I was doing was the person selling it to me.
That’s right, I got an email from the little shop in Quebec, asking me (politely because CANADA) if I was really sure I really wanted this mug? Did I perhaps not see how expensive the shipping was? That it was in fact, more than double the cost of the mug itself? Perhaps I wanted to reconsider my order?
I emailed back right away: “I know how much it all costs. I don’t care! I still want it, and furthermore, I’M WORTH IT!”
No, really, that’s what I wrote. They were probably like, “whatever, Oprah” (but politely, because CANADA).
So I got my ridiculously expensive mug and I use it every single day for my lattes. My husband gets it out of the dishwasher every morning and pours my coffee into it and it’s my “special mug” that no one else is allowed to touch under penalty of death. It is so well-loved that you can no longer read the writing or see the picture of the pine trees on it anymore. Now, it just looks like I have an unnatural attachment to a plain old white latte mug, but I don’t care, I know what it symbolizes. It makes me so damn happy to think of Three Pines and all my imaginary friends and also– OH MY GOD THE NEXT BOOK WAS JUST RELEASED!!!!!!! A Great Reckoning is FINALLY HERE!!!
I wish I could tell you I have learned from my past, that I will take my time with this book, that I will slow down, go for walks in between chapters…but we all know that’s just my addiction talking. Do yourself a favor, go start with Book 1, Still Life, and move slowly, oh so slowly, through the series. Learn from my mistakes! And for the love of God, whatever you do, don’t finish before spring arrives. See you in Three Pines!