It’s not as if I didn’t know this.
I’ve met him several times. Lee Martin hails from a small town only 15 minutes from the small town where I live in southern Illinois. We have friends in common. I’ve heard him read several times because while he doesn’t live in this area, he comes home.
His book of essays, Such a Life, is one of my favorites. You see, in his fiction and nonfiction, Lee Martin writes about folks who live in small towns in rural areas where the landscape is field–yes, field is a landscape type. He often writes about events (many tragic) that happened in neighboring villages.
The true story Martin’s The Bright Forever, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was based on unfurled just a county over. I didn’t live here then, but my husband did. He was a teenager and remembers how when the young girl went missing people from all over went searching. I don’t know Lee Martin well, but from what I can tell, he is generous, kind, and male.
The male part poses a problem for me.
Yesterday afternoon, when UPS showed up and I unwrapped the heavier than I expected package–heavier than I expected because I thought it contained an elasticized belt for carrying phones or insulin pumps during exercise–and found the belt, yes, but also Lee Martin’s new book, Late One Night, I was both surprised and delighted. Who doesn’t like receiving a new book, especially one by a great writer/human being? (I know, I know–there are those who say the great human being part doesn’t matter, that the words on the pages between the covers should stand on their own, but they don’t, at least not for me.)
Now it’s not that books don’t regularly show up on my doorstep, dropped off by Gary of the big brown box truck, because they do. I have a book ordering problem, and one-click ordering doesn’t help. I’m a book hoarder. It is not a surprise when a book (or seven) in a box shows up on my front porch although I try to act surprised if Eric’s home. I might say, “Wow, one of my delightful and literary friends has sent me a box of new books. I’m so lucky.” Eric just rolls his eyes; he is not often fooled by such a ruse.
I knew that Lee Martin’s new book was out or was soon to be out, and I knew I would read it, but I wasn’t expecting it, and because I wasn’t expecting it, I lost my head. I turned the book in my greedy little hands, admired the dark cover and the compact heft of it. Without thinking, I carried my new treasure out the back door into the bright spring sun, and I went straight for my chair.
I blasted through the first three chapters. I love Lee Martin’s books because I know the people in them. They live down the road or around the corner. I see them in the grocery store and when I go for dog food at Rural King. I dive in and find myself strangely at home. And even though his books are often dark, plumbing the depths of evil, hope, and human resilience, there is what Richard Rohr might call a “bright sadness” to Martin’s characters.
I closed the book after the third chapter and sat with my eyes shut against the afternoon shine for a moment, and then it occurred to me–“Shit! Lee Martin’s a man!” I promised myself that I would read books by women–only women–this year. I can’t read this book today or tomorrow or even next week or next month.
I can’t read this book until January 1st.
I’ll be honest. I’ve been reading mostly women writers for a long time, so when I made the women writers vow, I didn’t expect to rue the decision even once. Expectations are a bitch, though, and now I’m pissed. I started Late One Night, and I want to finish it. I could cheat, and I consider it. But in the end, I know I won’t.
So here’s the deal. Yes, there’s a deal. Since I can’t read this lovely book yet, one of you can. No, you can’t have my book. I am hanging onto it. I’m a book hoarder, after all. This one is on my night stand where it will remain unopened until January 1. But if you comment below, I will put your name in a hat or a cup or a small box or probably a little basket. On Monday, I will draw a name, and to that lucky winner, I will send a copy of Late One Night.
If you are the winner, the only thing I ask you to do is share the book with your friends, and you will want to. I know it’s a good one!