It was the year of 2006, and I had just moved to NYC for the first time. Well, “moved” may be a bit of a stretch, but I had taken a leave of absence from photography college, only a short while after visiting the city for the first time, to come back and explore the creative scene for a few months with a co-student and friend, Christina. Two months may not qualify as actual full-on residency, but I felt like I was doing it. For real.
Living abroad was not unfamiliar to me. I had previously skipped off to London after dropping out of high school at the age of 18, and re-locating seemed effortless. After all, I had a Chelsea address! Even if said address was defined as a shared pull-out in a no more than 55 Sq ft space, separated from the rest of the apartment by a curtain. Oh, and did I mention the three-legged cat? So New York…
One afternoon, you know, one of those lazy - warm but not too warm - October days where the city is sizzling with post-summer-my-troubles-seem-so-far-away-bliss, I took a walk through the East Village. Walking was, and still is to this day, one of my biggest pleasures. Music in the headphones, sunglasses serve as a shield from the curious looks of strangers - after all, we are New Yorkers - stride after stride.
I stopped by one of those treasure bins outside a book store, stacked to the rim with used volumes, just waiting for their next owner. Not unlike rescue kittens. Growing up, my parents were passionate readers and collectors, and even if money were oftentimes tight, the acquisition of literature was a constant priority. Circumstances caused us to move around quite a bit in the early years of me and my brother’s lives, but where ever we set up camp, wall-to-ceiling book shelves would dominate almost every room.
I was an introvert kid, too much up in my own head, and I remember spending day in and day out lounging in front of those towering mountains of books. Too young to understand even a fraction, I would still tirelessly read and memorize all the titles, honing a deep fascination with words and the impact they can have on a young, uncompromised mind.
Years later in NYC, I picked up a warn, stained copy of What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt, mysteriously drawn to that particular cover among all the other homeless ones. At the time I had never read anything by her. I knew the works of her husband Paul Auster by heart, having actually co-hosted a sparsely attended workshop about the symbolisms of his authorship years earlier, but was only familiar with her from the references encountered in his literature (relationship goals, much)? Now they co-inhabit the top-spot on my list of favorites authors.
I’m not a big believer in “meant-to-be”. For the most parts I believe we create - and are responsible for - our own fate and path in life. But none the less, sometimes small miracles occur - somewhere in The East village. “What soulless individual would ever part with this gem”? I asked myself. Who cares? One person's trash is another one's treasure. What I Loved was there for me to pick up that day, to start reading while wrapping up my stay, and to finish back in Denmark - homesick for NYC and dead set that one day I would build a life there. Now I do, and perhaps finding this book has something to do with it, perhaps not. Regardless, I have read it probably 17 times and counting, it is with me while I’m trotting the same streets as Leo, Erica, Bill, Violet, Mark, and Matthew did, and it’s the gift I bestow most frequently upon the people that I - myself - love.