Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2-2-11 Reading

The inscription, in my grandmother's perfect handwriting: To Victoria Anne Saltsman 1970. Books are the stuff dreams are made of. From her Grandparents Blaylock.

I don't know if this was the first book I ever received, but it's the one that stays in the top drawer of my bedside table in a place of honor.

Poor Henny Penny gets hit on the head by an acorn and decides that the sky is falling. And her hapless bird friends buy right into her interpretation of events and go a squawking along with her right into the fox's lair.

Even before I could read I was surrounded by literature reminding me to think for myself.

The "Message to Parents and Teachers" on the inside of the book reads, "Books in this series are factual, fanciful, humorous, questioning, and adventurous. . . . We firmly believe that the love and appreciation of literature must begin when the child is very young."

I've been playing with restoring some of our old prints from the early 70s, especially those that were either blown out by the over-powerful flash or underexposed. As things in the shadows appear, or things completely white turn into actual figures, certain patterns are emerging from my baby pictures. There are several repeated themes: Tori with the phone, Tori with her dolls, and Tori with her books. . . . always with her books.

There a line from a song I love, Tonic's "Lemon Parade", "Did you hide behind your books, girl, did you find your secret friends?" that always makes me smile. I had so many secret friends.

From the time I could read for myself, I've loved reading to other people. I'm sure it's a control thing that I prefer to be the reader the same way I prefer to be the driver on a trip. And it's probably also a throw back to being an only child who would read aloud to her stuffed animals who were always willing listeners.

I think the look on my face below is part of that only child syndrome, too. Uh, excuse me, but this is MY lap. . .

My grandmother Saltsman was an elementary school teacher, and she often brought books, even reading textbooks that she'd been sent to review, for my collection.

I do love this one. Until I restored some of the blown out foreground, I never realized this wasn't a children's book across my lap, but the newspaper. Better yet, using the zoom feature of Photoshop I can now retrieve the central headline: "Mongolism, sex" ????? It appears to say Heloise near the little picture of the woman's head by the title, but darned if I can figure out what helpful hints she might be offering in this day's column . . .

Prone to accidents, books have been there for me when I had to sit still for treatments through the years. This particular incident would be the loss of a big toenail after I dropped a brick on it and developed a staph infection.

What I don't seem to have, however, is a picture of me and my Mammammy (Grandmother Blaylock of the inscription) reading together, which is a real shame, since so many of my memories of her involve books. When I would be home for long stretches with illnesses, it was curled up in her big bed beside her recliner, me with my books in bed, her with her stack of them on the table between us. She tended toward the romances and we would make our way up to Bracewell, the public library sat squarely in the midst of the Almeda Mall parking lot, and come away with arms full of new reads, the covers filled with busty women on seasides. When they had their 5 cent paperback fundraiser, we'd fill up the backseat of her gigantic Cadillac with brown grocery bags of books to take home. Many years later, when I was an English teacher, I would bring her my literature books that had arrived for review so that she could pick through the short stories, the poems, and the plays and tell me which ones she liked best.

Mammammy was the one who encouraged me to read to her all the time. And I'd largely forgotten how much I enjoyed reading aloud until Lynne and I started our ritual of reading over our weekly lunch. We managed to get through Light in August, Coraline and Tom's Midnight Garden and four of the Harry Potter books that way before I moved away. It would appear one Faulkner was enough to send us straight to the children's section...

When Nick had The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn assigned, after a rough start reading it on his own, we settled into a routine of me reading it aloud to him, chapter by chapter in the evenings, speeding through the difficult dialects while I fell more and more into the southern accent I've been able to largely abandon in everyday speech. It was marvelous.

And now, Sammi is assigned The Great Gatsby. She is my avid reader so I was surprised when she complained that it was tough to get through. So we've taken to curling up on the bed or the couch as I read it aloud to her, chapter by chapter. Yesterday as I was reading Chapter 7 and getting quite into it, I stopped and said to her, "it's amazing that this is really one of the only things people had for entertainment before the advent of radio, film, television or the internet."

Chapter 7, by the way, is where things really heat up and Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy never loved him, that through their entire marriage she has always only ever loved him. And even though Daisy tries to believe this, she knows that's simply not true.

I was Sam's age the last time I read this book and what a difference 25 years can make. Mrs. Moncrief was my 10th grade English teacher who adored this book, who insisted on having a flapper/20s party after we finished reading it, while most of us stood around mortified. At 15, her students didn't, couldn't, get it.

This is really a book about regret, about the inability to accept reality in the face of romantic ideals, of a dying enchantment. In Chapter 5, when Gatsby is finally reunited with Daisy and tries to explain how he has chosen his palatial mansion because it was directly across the bay from her house and the green light at the end of her dock ". . . the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one." I caught my breath when I read that aloud the other night.

I hope that of the few enchanted objects that survive my own adulthood, that books forever remain among them.

The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees -- he could climb it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder. . . . Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something -- an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man's, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever. (The Great Gatsby, chapter 6)


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