On Christmas eve, 1997, I camped out for Toni Morrison. It was the publication day of Paradise, her first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in 1993, and the promised final installment in a trilogy beginning with Beloved and Jazz.
So it was a major release by a major writer, but it was also a rite of passage for me. About six weeks earlier, I had decided to change majors, from pre-med to English. For me this was more than a change in required courses or even career path, it was an acknowledgement of who I was and who I wanted to be.
I was a book person and wanted to spend my life in books.
So I went down to my local Borders (now gone like all the rest), and waited for the doors to open at 7am. There was a crowd of holiday shoppers there, but as I zipped to the new hardcover section, no one followed; I was the only there for Paradise. For some reason, I thought there would be others.
I was disappointed. This was no opening weekend of a blockbuster movie or first day of the baseball season. It was just me.
But then I looked around and saw the frantic, last-minute shopping around me. It wasn’t that these people weren’t interested in books; they were buying them by the armful. But they didn't care about them as I did, didn’t live for them as I did (and still do.) And that made me feel good about me.
I couldn’t start reading Paradise that day; the holiday hustle was in full swing. But the afternoon of Christmas day, familial cheer activities fully discharged, I took my gifts up to my room, piled them in the corner, and shut the door. Then, for the next nine hours, I read.
And I haven’t stopped.