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I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Rereadings

I am smitten with this book: Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit the Books They Love. For the past three days I've been reading feverishly through these taut passionate little essays and adding to my reading list, which is already too long to be completed in a lifetime, books like A Field Guide to Wildflowers, the stories of Katherine Mansfield, the novels of Collette. And I'm only halfway through the book.

Even when I don't read it I can't part with it. I love to look at its beautiful cover, the brick and yellow and brown colors, the art reproduced below the title: a lithograph, as far as I can tell, of geometric patterns on the spines of books. And as I run my fingertips down the grainy surface of the paper I remember, with a clarity and detail that surprise me, the books that I read when I was in my early teens and that have marked me deeply despite the fact that they were not literary masterpieces. (I read some of those too, novels and poetry from the Romanian literary canon, and they were beyond me. But they made me want to write. I find that rather strange now -- that incomprehension planted that seed in me.)

There's Three Fat Men, by Yuri Olesha, a Soviet writer. The book has an underlying socialist moral, but the prose is not overwhelmed and stiffened by it. I read this book in one day, all its three hundred and some pages, lying in bed on a summer day, the blinds in the window shut to keep the room cool. I remember hearing the sounds of regular family life outside the door of my room, my parents walking by, speaking, dishes clattering when lunchtime then dinnertime came. I remember my mother sticking her head through a crack in the door and coaxing me to come out and stretch my legs. I wouldn't. I was hooked on the story, which seemed to me whimsical and serious and crazy and full of pathos. I know I will be obsessed for a few weeks with finding the book and rereading it. There are only used copies on Amazon. And of course they're in English. And of course they cannot be the same as the copy that I owned as a girl, hardcover, with glossy pages and vivid pictures that I can see right now in my mind's eye as if I had finished the book only yesterday.

Then there's Sans Famille, by Hector Malot. I read that book over and over. Tirelessly, I followed Remi, the homeless ten-year-old hero of the story, in his trecks throughout France in search for his family. That book had purple cardboard covers without a picture on the front -- it was a library book -- and yellowish pages stained by the fingerprints of the many, many children who had read it before me. It had a certain smell too stale and pulpy, that matched, strangely, the subject of the book, what it was like to live in poverty.

I'm determined to track down these books and reread them. At the same time, I feel a trace of doubt, of hesitation. I don't want to let my adult mind break the old magic of these books. But perhaps it won't. Perhaps the magic is strong enough to bewitch my older, critical, skeptical mind anew.

1 Comments:

Blogger natalie_eve said...

The Three Fat Men was one of my favorite childhood books. I still have my copy, which is now falling apart.

May 28, 2006  

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