Heat Check – Let’s Play Heat Signature, Episode 4


Let’s just wall this whole room off forever, how about.

Seeking Wonder

My first favorite book was Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss. I don’t remember this firsthand, because every memory I have before the age of five is a swirl of snowmen, roiling clouds of murder dogs, and other things I’ve been told that my brain has then turned into false memories. But I’m told that my first favorite book was Hop on Pop, because it was the first book I could read. My older sister read it to me until I could read it on my own, or at least recite it from memory until I could read it on my own. 

My next favorite book was A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. There were certainly books I liked more between reading a book about bouncing on father figures and this science fiction classic, but I don’t remember what they were. I read this for the first time in fourth grade, sitting in the library at A.R. Ware Elementary in Staunton, Virginia. “There is such a thing as a tesseract,” and then everything rushed out of my mind and the void was filled with seemingly-impossible science futures, ghostly voices, indescribable feelings, and the knowledge of a darkness creeping around the edge of the known universe and the edge of my heart. There’s a lot that I can credit A Wrinkle in Time for — a desire to read stories that aren’t just starring men, the location of the science fiction/fantasy section in my local library, an affection for people named Meg — but more than anything, it gave me a desire to seek out wonder.

(Years later, I would find myself sitting in the second-to-last row in an Overland Park theatre, watching a trailer for Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and not realize I was crying until my wife Meg asked if I was all right.)

My next favorite book was The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern. One day, while playing a video game online with my best friend, Meg walked into the room, dropped the book on the desk next to me, said “read this,” and walked out of the room. I read it in a week and it moved me more than anything had since A Wrinkle in Time. Magic crackled between the pages of that book, and the last hundred pages took up every available space in my soul as I devoured everything. The titular Night Circus remains the place I most desperately want to see that I know I never can..

I have started Morganstern’s long-awaited second novel, The Starless Sea, and it has its hooks in me deep. It did so not with a character or a mystery or a scene, but with a particular color of magic, something it could not have possibly foreseen, if the entire concept of the book was not about foreseeing exactly that sort of thing. 

Our main character starts a chapter sitting in the back of his closet, a favorite reading place from his childhood. That small detail brought a memory of mine back to the forefront, a memory I hadn’t forgotten, but a memory that I had forgotten why.

My favorite place to read as a child was behind the couch. Our living room had a couch pushed right up against the wall, the back positioned an inch from the windowsill. The couch had a bit of an angle to it, sloping back from the base, so there was more room between the baseboard and the base of the couch than there was from the windowsill and the upper edge of the couch. The heating vents were there as well, cut into the carpet, one at either edge of the couch. I was a rail until I was twenty, so as a child, I would take a book and a blanket behind the couch, stretch out, arrange the blanket so it would trap the heat as it rose, and I would read a book for hours at a stretch.

I did this because I wanted a place that was just about the book or the story. It wasn’t just that behind the couch became a space that was mine and mine alone. It was that this space couldn’t be used for anything else. I never played a game back there, or wrote back there, or craned my head forward to see the TV off to my left. I didn’t put music on. I had my blanket, I had my book, and the entire world went away so I could seek out my wonder. 

I don’t have room between my couch and the wall here in my apartment; there’s a power strip in the way, so the cords for my recording equipment don’t stretch across the floor anymore. I don’t have to section off a physical place in my home to find that magic again, though. I just need to take the time. If I don’t take the time, how will I find my next favorite?