Possibilities are limitless with imagination as a guide. How else can you explain the thread that links Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown (Harper Collins, 1964), Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts (Warner Books, 1998) and The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs (Simon and Schuster, 2007)? I arrived at this commonality during a convalescence after recent surgery. During long hours of solitude, when reading was still a challenge for me, I let my mind drift through book titles I had read in the past. I did mental calesthenics – I challenged myself to list authors, settings, characters. I grouped them by topic, by publication date, by the date I first read the book. By now, it must be more than evident than I am a literary geek. Let’s simply acknowledge that fact and move on.
I started formulating a thesis that the books we read as children shape our dreams and mold our futures. Some of my favorite childhood books were T.H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, The Borrowers, and E.L.Kinigsburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I looked for adventure, a world within another world, a strong, moral protagonist and a satisfying conclusion. Every book that claimed my attention successfully drew me into its pages, lifting me out of my seat into its plot. Escape.
One of my earliest chapter books, Flat Stanley, recounts Stanley’s conundrum when a bulletin board lands on his bed, flattening him to a record four feet tall, a foot wide, and half an inch thick. At first, the novelty of his situation offers many distractions and numerous escapades. Stanley even solves an art heist. His condition eventually wears on him. His creative brother uses a bicycle pump to restore Stanley to his former stature. My daydreams allowed me to accompany Stanley on his high-flying adventures as a kite, down a sidewalk grate below the street and into the U.S. postal service. I catalogued and stored those pleasurable thoughts for future reference.
Thirty years later, I was, unconsciously seeking the same kind of thrill. Case in point, the book Where the Heart Is. This novel is almost entirely played out in a Walmart. The main character finds herself pregnant and trapped by circumstance and finances inside this giant big-box store. She shows resourcefulness and ingenuity in creating a comfortable world. Drawing from house wares, electronics, and the grocery section, she creates a comfortable environment to live in after hours. Despite all expectations to the contrary, she develops a real friendship with a man who, ultimately, changes and improves her life.
Another vault of mind and I arrive in the pages of A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically. I gleaned what I know about this book from a lengthy New York Times Book Review and a Barnes and Noble research expedition. A comfortable leather chair, a decaf. vanilla latte and a Sunday afternoon spent speed reading the book at Barnes and Noble. The crux of the book is that a less than religious Jewish man undertakes the challenge of observing his faith’s most cited biblical laws for a year. Much like Stanley and __LOOKUP NAME_________, the narrator lives in a world of his own making. He comes out subtly changed, but I will let him tell you about that. Suffice it to say that I was intrigued by the discipline and curiosity that inspired him to follow this path. Would I have the psychological muscle to commit to living so stringently? I completed a one-year Course in Miracles (in sixteen months). Does that serve as a predictor of probable success?
With all this hop-skip-and-jumping, I finally hit upon a thoroughly engaging idea. Last week, I was standing in the checkout aisle of Stop and Shop when it struck me. What would I do if, like Flat Stanley, I found myself compressed and flattened? With the scads of displayed magazines on my right, it was a no-brainer that I would like to enter the pages of a magazine featuring food as its theme. Trapped in an interior world with different rules, how would I do? Would I make friends, adapt, experience an epiphany of sorts? To challenge the notion, I pictured a miniaturized version of “me” hopping through the pages of Cooking Light magazine. For one week, I would eat and serve only recipes wrung from the 78 colorfully displayed recipes displayed therein. Twenty-one meals. On a mission, I visited Forbes Library to pick up a back issue of Cooking Light. I pulled out April, 2007, flipped through its pages, and began to digest my future.