While waiting in a Mexican airport on the last day of 2010, I played the literature lotto. I had finished all of my vacation reading material (for anyone who’s interested: a Tom Robbins classic “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” Orson Scott Card’s lesser-known “Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and a few archaeology and music magazines). I was desperate for something to read during the lovely (read: awful and stressful) travel day ahead of me.
Unfortunately, not being able to fluently read Spanish left me with only a dozen options in the airport’s convenience/book/souvenir store. And of these books — including such illustrious works as “Eat, Pray, Love” and the newest “Twilight” novella (yes, unfortunately Stephenie Meyer’s brain has yet to be disconnected from any mass communication medium) — there were few actual options. This fact alone could spin off an entire pretentious column about the sad state of the American novel, as self-absorbed memoirs and a series about an abusive vampire lover-boy top the bestseller charts … but I digress.
After browsing a few back covers, I settled on “The Passage,” a June 2010 release by fiction writer Justin Cronin. I had never heard of the book or the author, but the description boasted “a secret government experiment” that goes horribly awry. It hinted at apocalypse, creatures of the night and a female protagonist. A sci-fi, conspiracy-theory nerd at heart, I was hooked.
About 200 pages in, I realized that “The Passage,” to my surprise, was good. Like, really good. Maybe it was the author’s expertly executed balancing act — switching back and forth between places, times and a host of intriguing and well developed characters — or maybe it was his cunning style that made me terrified to turn around and see what genetically modified creature may be causing my goosebumps. Whatever it was that gave me this epiphany, it encouraged me to want to read the next 600 pages (yes, this book is gigantic). I had won the literature lottery.
Where did this book come from? A little internet research when I finally returned home from this hell of a travel day revealed that I had been completely out of the loop. People in the book world have been excited for “The Passage” since its release in June. Apparently the movie rights have already been sold, which includes contracts for the next two, unreleased books that will make up the paper trilogy. It’s rumored that Ridley Scott will direct the first installment. So yeah, apparently “The Passage” is a big deal.
Not only did I win the literature lottery, I won the jackpot. Out of this random, desperate pick in a godforsaken airport, I discovered years of (hopefully) quality entertainment: two more books and three films. I also discovered a new, potentially favorite author who will (hopefully) produce many more awesome books in the years to come.
But, most importantly, I played the literature lotto in the first place. I’m sure I’m not the only bookworm who’s bogged down by school work, life and the internet, and sometimes lets pleasure reading fall by the wayside. Too often, I don’t like to play the lottery when it comes to packing vacation reading material. I love reading so much and have so little time to read that I don’t want to risk taking a bad book and wasting my time. So I resort to re-reading, or reading slowly to make one great book last for a long time. Case in point: I’m saving two-thirds of “The Passage” for my next vacation at the end of February. As a result of this tendency, I’m sure I’ve missed out on a lot of great reading.
I sometimes forget how much fun the literature lottery can be. It can be nice to just wander through a bookstore on a lazy afternoon, inhaling the distinct new-book scent and browsing the selection. It’s an exhilarating feeling to zone in on a cover that catches your eye, pick up the manuscript and read the back cover description. Will the book be intriguing enough to merit a purchase? Will it fail the test? Only that indescribable, immediate connection between paper and person can tell.
So, I guess I’ll make one more New Year’s resolution: I’ll learn a lesson from my winnings at the literature lottery and play again soon. I’m fully prepared to make a few misjudgments and start reading some truly awful books. I can’t win all the time. But I’m also excited for the possibility of winning again. In the big scheme of things, what do I really have to lose?