Sparknotes. That was the overall consensus, which was deducted from a tenuous poll of my extended family.
It was collected in coherence with the stuffing and cranberry sauce that cluttered our green linen tablecloth in so many trays and casserole dishes- a true Island of Misfit Plates. As all 23 of us huddled around the dining room table, like frisky Eskimos in a snowstorm, being physically connected to one another somehow lent its significance to our unseasonable and mountie-muddled cause.
It also made it easier for my grandma to smack me:
“What are you putting all this time into reading some science fiction novel for? YOU ended things with HIM. Be done with the guy!” She shot me an exasperated look.
“Better yet, just say you’ve read it and give it back to him,” asserted my aunt.
It was my uncle who provided me with a truly cunning solution. “Skim the pages,” was his suggestion.
Yet eventually they all agreed that the best way to solve my problem would be simply to look up a summary of the book online.
Here was my dilemma:
You see, for the past few months I have had a crush on a boy named Jonah Mitchell. Slowly, our relationship escalated from “picture of him hidden in my closet” to “picture of us proudly set as my iphone wallpaper.” And yet, even after such a tentative, gradual lead-up, everything came to pass with the brilliance and brevity of a dying star.
I do not disillusion myself so far as to believe, as many other girls my age suffering from a break-up where the aftermath outlives the actual relationship, that I was in love with him. Nor do I continue to assert, neglecting the true motives of any present company, that he and I should have had six children and moved to Bangladesh. I mean only that, while the relationship was short, it meant something, and when it was over it sucked.
I ended things with Jonah because certain aspects of the relationship had begun to get on my nerves. For starters, we share three classes and two extra-curriculars. Add in a few group hang out sessions, as well as some one-on-one dates, and we were spending 75% of our waking moments together: simply too much time. Another point of friction is that we are in different stages of life; Jonah does not have a job, a car, or even a driver’s licence; I have all three. Rather than to constructively deal with these issues, however, I chose, in typical ham fashion, to break it off before the relationship became more serious and a separation could do any substantial emotional damage.
It was during the early phases of our brief relationship that Jonah lent me a book. Actually, it was his all-time favourite, sporting so many frays that it appeared more well-loved than the velveteen rabbit. He rather insisted that I read it, this compilation of the three Foundation novels written by sci-fi champ Isaac Asimov, saying that “the book is me. I am the book.”
It was six days after our break-up when all 11 meager AP English students, the herd having been thinned out as a result of flood, famine, and the cruel Ms. Feyre from last year, gathered around the boardroom table as Mrs. Joyce articulated excitedly about the joys of reading.
“It makes me sad to see so many of you who aren’t passionate about literature! When was the last time any of you got excited about a book?”
“You know what? How about all of you try to remember a book that made you really excited about reading, and bring it in to discuss for Monday?”
As we all began babbling about our favourite novels, a glance to my left confirmed what was already obvious to me.
Jonah started, “I wa-”
He wanted the Asimov book back.
The only problem was that I had never read it, and I somehow got it in my head that the only way to salvage a friendship with Jonah was to finish the book, no matter how long it would take. This is how I managed to sentence myself, over Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, to 36 hours in inter-galactic prison.
Part of me also wanted to finish the book to prove that I was capable of committing to a relationship, even if it was one with paper and ink. Because, when I thought about it, reading a book is a lot like being in one.
Ending a three-month relationship doesn’t require the same courtesy and explanation as breaking off a real anniversary-churner (I’m not talking week-a-versaries here, people). In the same way, a reader is satisfied with an unsolved mystery at the close of a 200-300 page thriller, but once the author crosses over into the lofty 500+ page range, one demands the details with righteous indignation. By this point in the novel, even the author has usually abandoned his pomp and his poetic devices; after 6 years of marriage, a wife can take a dump in front of her husband without a second thought. In fact, if an author even tried to write an elaborate and roundabout explanation to a concept so late in the novel, I would holler at her to “just come out with it already.” And to “make me a sandwich.”
This is how I felt by the end of the 510-page, size 8 font Foundation series. I needed some sort of award. I needed Asimov, making me a sandwich.
The point is that Isaac Asimov clearly had a lot to say, and that I stupidly volunteered myself to sit for 36 hours as he said it.