I’m rather a creature of habit when it comes to books – often I prefer to reread old favorites than try something new and different. This could not be more true in the case of my absolute favorite book, a British novel titled The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, by Eva Rice. I picked it up at Heathrow Airport in London about 10 years ago, originally intending for my older sister to read it. She never did read it, so I “borrowed” it, and it’s been mine ever since.
It’s the story of an 18-year-old named Penelope, who’s life changes when she hops into a taxi with a stranger named Charlotte in November of 1954. The girls quickly become best friends, and the story documents them dealing with British life post-rationing, Johnnie Ray obsessions, love and lack thereof, and, of course, the art of keeping secrets.
Somehow, the story of Penelope and Charlotte, the former a proper and respectable girl and the latter a brave and adventurous free spirit, reminds me very much of myself and my friend S. It was only a few years ago that we met at work, and hit it off almost immediately. There was some confusion at the beginning: she was a little show-off-y as the summer’s newest waitress and I was a little bitchy as a veteran. But soon after these misinterpreted first impressions were lost, we fell into step with each other. She intrigued me with a life so completely different from my own: she was used to making her own money, moved in with her boyfriend at an age when I couldn’t even imagine having one, and didn’t need the approval of her parents for anything. I, on the other hand, was an intense worrier about everything and couldn’t imagine disobeying my parents, even if it meant not following my own dreams.
That summer is one that I will always remember. I felt so calm and safe in her presence, and found aspects of her personality in my own that I had never realized before. I realized that a beer and the beach were all that I really wanted and needed, that a stressful job could be fun with the right people, that making a lot of money in life wasn’t that interesting to me. Although we haven’t seen each other often since that first summer, I always return to that place when I am with her. She taught me not to take anything seriously, that we are only here for a little while, and that there is nothing more wonderful than drinking wine and driving through the moors in a beat up old jeep.