Guest Blog Post, Anthony Varallo: Read Elsewhere

Anthony E VaralloIs there a better book than the book read elsewhere? Why are so many of the books I remember best strangely wrapped up in my sense of having read them elsewhere, away, far from home, outside the classroom, or miles from my bedside nightstand, where all those books I’ve been meaning to read—books I will likely read there, before sleep and not nearly elsewhere—lie unread?

For me, Stephen King’s Pet Sematary will always be the Book I Read on a Paddleboat, when I was 13 years old and staying at my aunt’s house in the Pocono Mountains. My aunt owned a house on a lake, and permitted my friend, cousin and I the use of a red paddleboat we had to unmoor from a dock slick with the splashes of kids in lifejackets, the boat always on the verge of sinking, or so we joked. The three of us would paddle to the center of the lake and read the books we’d purchased on the drive in, at a bookstore shaped like a log cabin, all mass market paperbacks, Dean Koontz, Louis L’Amour, and of course Stephen King. I chose Pet Sematary because it had the scariest cover, and because Stephen King had blurbed it himself as a book so scary it terrified him while he was writing it, and who wouldn’t want to read a book like that? My memory of that book is of a child getting hit by a truck while speedboats and water skiers sent our paddleboat rocking in their wake.

Rabbit, Run is the book I read while studying abroad in London, the book purchased the moment before I’d run out of money and was feeling homesick for Delaware, my unremarkable and not terribly literary home state, which, in the opening pages of Updike’s novel, is only a few minutes away from Brewer, Pennsylvania, where Rabbit Angstrom works a bad job, argues with his wife, and recalls his days of basketball glory. I remember reading the book in our student flat at the top of a stairway that led to a rooftop we were forbidden to explore—hidden away—as Rabbit, in the opening chapter, goes on a solo drive through Pennsylvania, taking a series of turns that nearly takes him to Delaware. I turned the pages, thinking Rabbit was surely about to pull up in my driveway.

I read The Old Man and the Sea while staying at a friend of a friend’s house in Connecticut, part of some road trip I took the summer before I left for college. I’d been put in the guest bedroom, which had a twin bed and a desk with a bookshelf on top: I’d always meant to read The Old Man and the Sea, but had never gotten around to it, and was always sort of afraid that someone would ask me if I had read it—you mean you haven’t read The Old Man and the Sea?—and part of the pleasure of reading it now was my realization that no one would see me taking it down from the shelf each night and hence would never know that I’d just read it in the span of a weekend, and could now answer yes if anyone asked me about The Old Man and the Sea, a power I now felt I held in reserve, at the ready.

I’m traveling again in March: I will have to pack some of those bedside books, the ones I’ve been putting off forever, so that they might be read elsewhere.

Anthony Varallo

Anthony Varallo’s latest collection, Everyone Was There, is the winner of the Elixir Press 2016 Fiction Award. He is the author of three previous collections: This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award; Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize; and Think of Me and I’ll Know (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press). Currently he is an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and serves as Fiction Editor of Crazyhorse.

11 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post, Anthony Varallo: Read Elsewhere

  • February 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm
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    The Life of Pie: the book I read in Rhode Island the summer before my freshman year of high school. I had no idea what I was in for reading that book. I woke up early every morning and sat on the back porch with my uncle, who was already there reading his book drinking coffee.

    What a fun article!

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  • February 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm
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    Emma by Jane Austen. I started reading it on a weekend trip down to Cape Cod. I remember I didn’t even know who Jane Austen was, I just saw the book in the literary classics section. Great concept though, to associate a read book with a place. Creates a different dimension to both.

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  • February 24, 2013 at 6:54 pm
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    I remember reading The Fault in Our Stars mainly on the shuttle trips to and from the Main Campus of ASU. I definitely had a moment or two where I had to put my hood up on my jacket because I was so emotionally invested that I ended up crying while I was on said shuttle. Books definitely can become prominent in our memory just as much as something like a song, as you’ve illustrated here. I will definitely be passing this article on.

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  • February 24, 2013 at 11:57 pm
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    Thank you for sharing all the interesting places you’ve read certain books. S[R] would love to hear more of our readers’ “reading” experiences!

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  • February 25, 2013 at 2:49 pm
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    When I first read Byron, I read him for a class. But on a train going from central California to the south, I had an extra 6 hours and my English textbook with me, so I had nothing better to do than reread some of the things that I had to read for my classes earlier that semester. When I reread writers like Byron, Blake, Keats, and Wordsworth coasting on that train bordering the ocean and the Pacific 1 highway, I somehow was able to capture the idea of the Romantics and their love of the natural and of the sublime.

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  • February 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm
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    I can relate to having to read something out of necessity, like how The Old Man and the Sea is described in this blog post. I love Alice in Wonderland themed “stuff”–movies, artwork, music, etc, and one day, I heard a friend of mine quote “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Having seen the Disney version many times, I finished her quote, and she was so excited, asking me when I had read the book. I got the embarrassment of having to explain that I had never actually read the book–I saw the movie. With this in mind, I finally managed to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland…in Italy. Of all the things I remember reading in Italy when I was supposed to be reading “works in Florence” and tablets in museums, Lewis Carroll is foremost in my mind.

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  • February 25, 2013 at 6:43 pm
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    I can certainly relate to this! With the advancement of technology, we are able to read places where we weren’t able to before. Even more, we can read several books in one place. It is such a freeing thing!

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  • February 26, 2013 at 5:01 am
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    The first time I read Catch 22 was not actually in grammar or high school – like most other average Americans. I had the pleasure of reading it for the first time during my time in the military in a very large barracks. Somehow, the words stayed with me despite the less-than-ideal reading environment of 60+ men living under one roof. The power of well-written words I suppose!

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  • March 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm
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    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I read several of these stories while on a trip to San Diego. Now Sherlock Holmes and the trip are permanently linked in my mind.

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