Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The time I read The Color Purple

She read The Color Purple in August 1983. She remembers because she was in Houston and hurricane Alicia was coming through town. She, her mom and her sister had just driven down from Minneapolis, where they have moved after her mother finished rehab. After several hours on the road, Melanie’s mom switched on the CB and heard the truckers talking about the hurricane coming up the Gulf, scheduled to make landfall in the next few days.

They’d seen storms, but never a hurricane. When they arrived at her mom’s friend’s house, they promptly began to hunker down and wait for the storm. This included going to the grocery store and shopping for supplies: canned goods, bottled water, batteries and books. Her mother bought novels, crossword puzzles and coloring books to help pass the hours to be spent without electricity. And so she read The Color Purple while the winds and rain took the shingles off the houses, brought down power lines and slowly suffocated the tropical fish in the fish tank.

At the time, Melanie was 12 and about to start sixth grade. She had always been a reader and even though she probably shouldn’t have been reading a book about a woman who is molested and beaten and used, she loved The Color Purple. She still has her copy, along with most of the other books she’s ever read. She has books from her college years, books from her working at the bookstore years, books she’s borrowed from friends and never returned, and books that were given to her as gifts. She has nonfiction, memoirs, fiction and biographies. She has poetry and plays, short stories and essay collections, hard cover and paper back. She has books she is planning on reading, books she’s started but not yet finished, and books that she’ll probably never waste her time with. To her, each book is literally a chapter of her life.

Books are one of the few things she’s managed to hold on to through all the moves she’s made. And she mourns the lost copies of the children’s books she had, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, the Ramona series. Through all the moves and the storms, books were the constant.

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