By Emily Erickson
I finished my first book of 2021. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig had been sitting in my audiobook queue since it came out in August, but slid continuously down my reading list. At first, it was Irish murder-mysteries by Tana French that postponed my listening, with The Searcher and The Trespasser sweeping me up in crime, mystery and, of course, the rain-soaked charm of the Irish countryside.
Then, I waited on The Midnight Library at the discovery of a couple of books from returning and precious (to me) authors, like To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini and The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd.
My queue was further stymied by a trip to Vanderford’s, wherein I picked up a few choice paperbacks, like Creatures, The Silent Patient, The Ventriloquists and The Vanishing Half. Adding these books to my shelves prompted a long succession of slush-season mornings slipping away into another-pot-of-coffee afternoons spent in my reading corner.
But for all my waiting, I finally clicked play on The Midnight Library on Jan 3. And it turned out to be the perfect book to begin the new year — specifically, this new year.
Without giving too much away, The Midnight Library follows its lead character, Nora Seed, into the space between life and death, which, for her, is a vast and intimidating library with unending shelves of large, green books.
Each book in Nora’s purgatory-style collection is a different version of her life; the storied outcome of who and where she would be if she made different choices throughout her root life (her past). By reading a book’s first sentence, she is plunged into that tome’s parallel universe, in which her life took her to a different place, with different people and a different story. She’s allowed access into all the different versions of who she could have become, based on her alternative everyday choices.
This premise prompted introspection for me. Like Nora, I was plunged into daydreams of what my life would look like if I had made different choices — especially in those major tipping points of life-altering decisions.
If I had a Midnight Library, one of my books would be the story of a life in which I continued with high-caliber competitive running.
After high school, I would have sought attendance at an elite cross-country university, and perhaps, would have made the team. Surrounded by the best coaches and talented peers, I’d achieve a nearly unfathomable level of fitness, and maybe even find some success in the professional running world. Or, maybe, like my root life, the pressure of competition would have been all-consuming and I’d simply be in a different place, with different friends and the same affinity for long, slow trots on trails.
Another book in my in-between place would be one detailing my life if I had stayed in Alaska, making a home for myself in the little town at the tip of a Pacific canal. Instead of driving back south after the last cruise ship left its port (a signal for seasonal workers to return to their other lives), I would have sold my car and used the money to put a downpayment on a small A-frame on the edge of town. I’d have calloused hands from my ax’s worn wood handle and would have the scattered pages of my half-finished novel sitting next to used coffee mugs. Or maybe, I’d have hopped on the first ferry back to the Lower 48 in the spring, weather-worn after my winter of nearly complete darkness.
I wonder what my book would look like if I stayed in Wisconsin and never found this little North Idaho dot on the map. Or if I took that job in Seattle. Would I love my life as much as I do right now, or would I be an alternate, perpetually-searching version of who I am today?
The beautiful thing is, by spending time considering the multiverse of possible ways my life could have turned out, I have to acknowledge that the same amount of possibilities are in my future as well.
Every day I’m faced with an infinite amount of choices that have the potential to dramatically alter my world, shaping who and what I’ll become.
So, in kicking off 2021, a year marked by hope and potential, I’m filled with the renewed belief in the weight of my choices, and an understanding that how I spend my days will inevitably, and irreversibly, shape how I spend my life.
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