Hello fellow reader of the book I am holding in my hands. So you also thought these lines from Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater were worth reading again—possibly more than once. And so, you neatly folded the right tip of the page down and like me would come back to page 53.
Lauren Slater’s memoir is rich reading in many ways, not the least of her many skills is how through the auras of epilepsy she forges new relationships with words. She combines color, smell, and imagery with her episodes and her life. It’s a worthy workout to read Lying.
But page 53—like my fellow reader—laid out in clear terms a complex teaching from William James. In a paraphrase of James’s description of human will, she describes Will A as “what we all learn, the hold your head high, stuff it down, swallow your sobs, work hard kind of will.” Then she gives us her version of Will B—“a willingness instead of willfulness, an ability to take life on life’s terms as opposed to putting up a big fight.” Willingness or Will B gets a physical component—“being bendable, not brittle, a person who is brave enough to try to ride the waves instead of trying to stop them.” She ends this short, but extraordinary paragraph with this—“If you know Will B, you know your life.”
Lauren Slater has written other books and received a fair (or unfair) amount of criticism for her writing and her work as a psychologist. Lying is an odd book and like many one-off books that have been recommended to me, it grabbed me and kept me up too late reading just a bit more. Some nights I longed for a short chapter or the . . . that indicated a new thought or break.
Did my fellow reader, my dog-earing comrade feel that same way? Did he (or more likely she) finish the small book? Did they, like me, type out the paragraph about Will A and Will B so that even though the book would be dropped into the return bin at the library, I have that gem of a reminder to “know my life.”
Dear Librarians: We acknowledge and sometimes regret the defacing of books by turning down the tip of the page. There are more respectful solutions like post-its or colorful sticky tabs, and of late in my world—erasable pens that can make a tiny x on the corner of the page and is easily removed when all of the book’s gems have been reread.