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Books can teach us new things about ourselves

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Reading a book in which the main characters are people you know in real life can be a trip. (Courtesy photo)


I’m probably way too excited by the fact that my new Kindle was delivered this week. I know some of you just groaned after reading that last line, but I love my Kindle. I recently lost my last one, some time between landing at SFO and entering my apartment, and it really bummed me out.

Don’t get me wrong: I still buy and read plenty of paper books. But considering that I travel quite often, whether walking across town with my messenger bag or visiting foreign countries, my Kindle is a godsend. Reading is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the world, so before I owned a Kindle, I’d get on a plane with three books every time I traveled.

It’s also a magnificent sleep aid. When the night is late, and my mind is doing cartwheels worrying about all the little things I manage to keep at bay during my waking hours, I can turn off all the lights and one-eye a book until I fall asleep. It’s usually something that’s interesting enough to keep me engaged and boring enough to put me asleep; I’ve been reading Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” for about three years.

When my Kindle disappeared, I was in the middle of reading both Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer” and Edward Rutherford’s “Russka” (and, technically, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”). Finding myself suddenly bookless, I picked up something I’d been meaning to read: “Don’t Think Twice” by Barbara Schoichet.

“Don’t Think Twice” is a memoir about a middle-aged woman whose life falls apart when, within a short amount of time, she loses her job, her girlfriend leaves her and her mother dies. The woman decides buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle and driving across the country is the best way to heal and find out who she truly is.

Shenanigans ensue.

I’m about halfway through right now, and it’s fantastic. I’d been putting it off because I only have the hard-cover edition, and hardcovers are cumbersome to lug around. The reason I bought this version was because Barbara happens to be my cousin, and I wanted to support her in a way that makes her publisher happiest. (Us artsy people need to look out for one another.)

Other than genuinely liking the story and chuckling at the smart-ass, self-deprecating prose, the wildest thing about reading “Don’t Think Twice” is not having to imagine what the characters look like. Reading a book in which most of the characters are family members, with whom you spend Passover every year, is an absolute trip. I’ll be reading it and be like, “Yup, I can totally see Aunt Florence saying that.” It’s a strange and fascinating experience.

It’s also a cool way to learn more about my cousin. Seeing as she’s more than 25 years older than me, we’ve never been all that close. But reading a memoir about a family member not only cues you into who they are, but also teaches you things about your family that you never knew before. (I had no idea that Barbara’s father, my great uncle Ben, escaped from soldiers during the Bolshevik Revolution when he was 6 years old by hiding in a herring boat.)

The newest chapter to Barbara’s life is that she recently moved to San Francisco. She’d lived here back in her 20s, but a few months ago decided she was done with New York and wanted to call San Francisco home. She doesn’t know too many people here, and I want to help her find a community of queer women her age — maybe even a girlfriend. So, if you’ve got some ideas on great places to meet lesbians in their 50s, leave some suggestions in the comments.

Losing my Kindle was an obvious annoyance, and buying a new one wasn’t cheap, but I’m glad it pushed me toward picking up “Don’t Think Twice.” Now, I’m learning about my family without having to hear them yelling back and forth over the Seder table. Plus, how often do you get to read a book and then hang out with the main character?

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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