at day’s close

I first heard of the book on a late Sunday night talk show on WAMU, where I first heard described the phenomenon of “segmented sleep” that was apparently the default mode of pre-industrial man. The show itself felt like it was coming from the edge of the world – I don’t know if it originated from UVA-Wise or was just associated with that tiny school in a tiny town in the Appalachians. But it was three years before I remembered to buy the book.

I read it in January 2007, after a year of mostly staying home and settling into our new house and my staff job at Apple and living in a fugue state of trying to figure out who I was now. It was a liminal era, of adult study classes and feinting around RCIA and looking for new pubs the way a Baptist might look for a new church. And into this game Roger Ekrich’s At Day’s Close: Night In Times Past. It was readable, almost hypnotic, building a medieval Europe where natural light ordered the day and night was at once terror and shelter.

2007 was the first year I began making a habit of writing down the things I enjoyed during the year. And “the book about night” was on the list, along with the night class on the history of Catholicism and watching Scottish soccer on TV and the quiet solitude of our own house with a pot of tea or coffee. It was soothing, it was relaxing, and it felt like the beginning of a calmer, more peaceful sort of life. I don’t know any better way of describing it other than to say I liked the person I was while I was reading that book.

And in January 2008, after an awful end to what had become an awful year, I found myself reaching for it again. And going to the same pubs in San Jose again, and playing the same songs again, trying to capture a little of who I thought I was becoming in January 2007, only now with the benefit of having recently been to York and Paris and having a little more European experience to add to my reading.

This will make the fourteenth straight year for me to read the book in January. I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to capture now with a ritual that’s lasted over a quarter of my life. But it’s from that first read in 2007 that you can see my book purchases swing hard toward nonfiction historical reading. Maybe that was the beginning of Sunday pub time: a book, a pint, and nothing else to do until morning. It’s a welcome vacation. I look forward to visiting again this year.

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