For the first time on my literary tour of the US, reading about a state isn’t enough for me. With Alabama the accents entertained me; with Alaska the winter enchanted me; with Arizona the desert parched me; and with Arkansas the juxtaposition of Frontier and Southern cultures fascinated me. With all of those states, I was satisfied to read words on a page; I did not need to hop in a car or jump on a plane and visit them in real life.
With California, though, words on a page don’t sate me. They sing, they lure, they tantalize and tease me. After all those weeks reading Arizona and Arkansas, where I was landlocked in the dusty dry desert, or sweating and swatting gnats on sultry summer days at a muddy swimming hole, the sea spray of Island of the Blue Dolphins was so refreshing I thought I might cry.
The morning was fresh from the rain. The smell of the tide pools was strong. Sweet odors came from the wild grasses in the ravines and from the sand plants on the dunes.
I drank that book like a canteen of cold water. I finished The Island of the Blue Dolphins in a day and a half and wanted more: more surf, more Pacific ocean, more California. So I picked up a The Dawn Patrol, a mystery-thriller set on Pacific Beach, where the P.I. is a surfer, and within the first ten pages one of the characters used the term party wave; I think I might have squealed. The Dawn Patrol was everything I wanted: waves, surfer lingo, California girls, fish tacos, and characters with names like Hang Twelve and Sunny Day. From there I moved up the coast to San Francisco with Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, where they climb the Matterhorn and descend in moonlight.
We could hear creeks rushing coldly below on cold starlit rocks.
And this was all before I even started the books I intended to read for Andrea Reads America.
Maybe it was kismet, maybe it was my subconscious, but I began reading California six weeks ago, when I launched this website and took on the task of moving all of my Andrea Reads America posts from my Butterfly Mind blog to here. As I transferred all my writing, I did not want to get too far ahead in my reading – I did not want the blog to be in Alabama when I was reading Connecticut – so I gladly parked myself on the west coast for a month and a half; I read California during the entire transfer.
In addition to the books above, I read three others, and it still wasn’t enough. Six weeks, six books, and I don’t want to leave The Golden State. It fills me with a longing that, for once, words cannot assuage. I want to go there. I want to smell the kelp and explore the tide pools; I want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down; I want to listen to barrel waves crash; I want to sit on the floor of the redwood forest. I want to be there. I don’t want to just read it.