Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Book Goes to My Child Along with the Memories

Rebecca  In my continuing quest to organize the basement now that I'm a Lady of Leisure, I opened a box labeled "Lini's books" in  my mother's handwriting that had sat untouched for a few years. I didn't expect to have such a deep well of feelings about the contents. The box was a cornucopia of memories. I found Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, read over the summer when I was a rising senior in high school, and one of my favorites. I loved it just as much when I reread it -- this time on my Kindle -- for my parents book club. 

  Like a song, a book can evoke just as strong emotions, yank you back to another decade -- not necessarily simpler but worth remembering all the same. I've saved every one of my books. They line the basement shelves, waiting to be read again. Not necessarily by me, but by my son and my grandchildren -- a hope that always brings a smile.

  I found 15 volumes of the Happy Hollisters -- that perfect, big family that always stumbled onto mysteries to solve in their small town America neighborhood. Each of the volumes had a little number stuck to it. That was when I used to play librarian, what we kids did before texting to pass the time. I got the idea to inventory my hefty collection of books, creating my version of Dewey's decimal system. Each book also had its own index card kept in a small box -- a card catalogue, waiting for someone to check them out. For a while, the boys who lived behind us in Lexington, Ky., obliged. I made the labels with one of those label-matic devices sold by informercial, which I know is somewhere in my parents' house.
  My own child likes the Happy Hollisters as much as I did. A few volumes had appeared from an earlier clean-up effort, and he caught the mystery bug. Even though he's a bit old for the books now, I was delighted to find so many and promptly placed them on his book shelf. And he was appropriately delighted. In one volume, The Happy Hollisters and the Secret of the Lucky Coins, he showed me an inscription I had written:
     "I Read this book in India chapter 17 + 18
      "This Book Goes to my child + the rest of the seirous [sic]."
  That was series -- spelling was never my forte. Below the inscription, I had drawn a long line tagged "childs name."
  It's one of those shiver-down-the-spine moments. Here's my child -- the one I imagined in some way -- holding the book I held, reading the book I read, and adding his name in the spot reserved for him.

Inferno (Bantam Classics)  I also found a range of college books, including Dante's Inferno, as well as Purgatorio and Paradiso -- the other two volumes that rarely get read. Hell usually hogs all the attention. That's the way of the Devil. But for a a college honors class, I had to read all three. Those were the days of contemplating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Arcturus Paperback Classics)  Tess of the D'Urbervilles, recommended by my mom as one of the most poignant tales ever, set me along the path to read and adore anything Thomas Hardy. Lady Chatterly's Lover, discovered on my own, did the same for D.H. Lawrence. I felt very grown up reading that book as a 15 year old, as if consuming some forbidden fruit. The box also had a Harold Robbins that the daughter of my father's best friend had given me as a birthday present. It shocked my parents once I told them the contents of the book. On my memory blast went through Somerset Maugham, whose Of Human Bondage was read when I was as miserable as the main character and sure life would never be good, and Sylvia Plath, whose Bell Jar always made me so sad for a life about to be lost.
Lord of the flies;: A novel (A Putnam Capricorn book, Cap 14) I also discovered my copy of the Odyssey and the Cliffs Notes I had purchased along with it. I always read the book (really!) but used the Cliffs Notes to tease out themes in my overachiever way. Both would have been handy last year, when my son read the same book.

  One of my happiest moments is when the Resident Teen's English class is reading the same text I read and then passing along my book with my margin notes in loopy script. He enjoys pointing out how my notes make no sense. Still, there's something wonderful about a child doing the exact same thing as a parent, a lovely continuity across generations. It's why dad's so enjoy introducing their sons to baseball, the same game they played as a child.

  I got to do that with Lord of the Flies. And tried with Ethan Frome, which I read in eighth grade and which began my love of English as a subject. But despite looking everywhere, I couldn't find my copy in time for him to read it in ninth grade. He probably prefers the new book I ended up buying -- but I was sad I had to forsake that passage from me to him. I think, I hope, he'll appreciate it more when he's older and has his own children to inherit his vast collection of fantasy books -- and the memories stored within those pages.


Jennifer Stephenson McLamb said...

Lini - thank you for this sweet post!

Lady of Leisure said...

Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!