Thanks, Mr. Simons

October 14, 2018 5:51 PM

This weekend, I finished reading a book I started in 1983. It wasn’t even a long book, either. Just a mere 204 pages; but it took me thirty-five years to read it.

Yesterday afternoon, after eating Chinese food from a new restaurant, I inadvertently ate something with either Oyster sauce or Fish sauce. I’m allergic to both, as in it makes my chest tight and makes it hard to breathe as if I’m having asthma, but it’s not asthma. It’s the allergy. So far, knock on wood, when this happens I’ve been able to counter-act the reaction with Benedryl. Sometimes it takes one pill, sometimes it takes two. Yesterday afternoon was a two-Benedryl reaction.

One Benedryl makes me sleepy but I can still navigate the day. Two pills puts me out for hours. Which it did yesterday afternoon, for close to three hours. This is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Last night, around 11:30 pm, I was nowhere near tired to sleep, but I was tired of tv and video games and I didn’t feel like reading the book I’ve been reading, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. It’s a light, fluffy, fantasy story that’s fine to pass the time for awhile. I just wasn’t in the mood to read it, though.

I was in the mood to read an actual book-book, something with actual paper pages as opposed to my kindle which I use most the time. As I perused my bookcase, I happened upon a book, the book, that I started in 1983. A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

I remember very clearly starting the book in Guided Independent Reading class with Mr. Simons. I loved that class so much that I took it twice (we weren’t allowed to take it three times, or else I would have). All that was required in the class was to pick classic novels from a list, read them in class and have a conversation with Mr. Simon about them when the books were done. That was it. No papers, no essays, no tests. Just a dedicated 50 minutes of reading books of my choice for an entire semester. Did I mention how much I loved that class?

I have to admit, I was a pretty lousy student in high school (okay, and as an undergraduate in college, too). I got by with mediocre grades, putting in as little effort as I could give and still get a C or better. I don’t remember all that much about a lot of the classes I took, but I still remember many of the books I read for Mr. Simon. Lord of Flies, The Good Earth, Green Mansions (I had to keep from crying on the school bus as I finished that one) A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and my all time favorite book, then and now, A Catcher in the Rye. 

Fresh off my reading a Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Simons suggested that I might enjoy another coming-of-age story called A Separate Peace. I enthusiastically agreed and I couldn’t wait to start the book. After several class periods, I couldn’t wait to put the book down. It was slow, it was wordy and I hated it. Absolutely hated it.

We weren’t supposed to exchange books we didn’t like in the class, but every so often, Mr. Simon would agree if we really hated a book. I only swapped out two books in the two times I took the class. A Separate Peace was the first. Catch-22 was the second.

Throughout the years, I’ve returned to the classics I loved, and read a few new ones. One boss I worked for had a beautiful collection of leather-bound Classics with pages edged in gold. The paper was of the highest quality and the books came with their own ribbon bookmarks. The smell when I cracked open one of those books is indescribable. It is the best new-book scent that I’ve ever smelled. She loaned me a few of these books and they were an absolute joy to read. I reacquainted myself with Lieutenant Henry and Catherine from A Farewell to Arms while reading one of those marvelous books. (I didn’t borrow many of them from her because I was always afraid I’d spill on them.)

At one point in the past thirty-five years, I came across a paperback copy of A Separate Peace at a bookstore and bought it and never read it. I, honestly, have no idea how long ago or how many moves it has followed me through. I never read it, but I never got rid of it either.

Last night, as I perused the bookshelf, I happened upon it again. I decided it was high time I gave the novel another look. Worst case, if it was still boring, it would put me to sleep.

I started it last night around midnight and I read half the book before I finally forced myself to go to sleep. I got very little done today until I finished it. I loved it. I understand now why Mr. Simon thought I would enjoy it. Fantastic plot, great symbols, unbelievable writing and definitely in the same neighborhood as A Catcher in the Rye. 

I can see, however, what I was put off of as a 17 year-old reading it. In spite of being short, it’s not a quick read. It doesn’t deserve to be either. The sentence structure is complex, almost poetic in it’s own way. I actually read a fair amount of the book out loud to myself, just to get the full experience of the words and images. I wasn’t patient enough, or motivated enough, to work to get through a book back then in 1983. It wasn’t work to get through it this time, but it did make me feel woefully inadequate with my own writing.

I’m glad I held on the book for however many years I’ve had it, and I’m so glad I finally read it. It’s going to be one of my new favorites. I just wish I could tell Mr. Simons how much I enjoyed his recommendation and have a conversation with him on the writing and the meanings behind the book.

6:25 PM

Another Journey Home

11:33 am 7/14/17

I love to read. Growing up, my mom instilled a love of books in me that I’ve never lost. She said that whenever you have a good book, you have a friend.  I believe that, and I have characters in books that still feel like friends to me today.

Scarlett O’Hara; Holden Caufield; Hermie from “Summer of ’42” are all adolescent friends. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Encyclopedia Brown, the Pigman, and, of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder are childhood friends. (I see that I’ve broken the magic rule of “3” in writing with this last list, but I can’t bear to leave any of them out.)

I always have at least two books going. One that I read on my Kindle and one audio book that I listen to while I sew. I prefer to read fast-moving novels with engaging characters in all genres (except maybe science fiction fantasy or pure romance) on my Kindle.

I prefer longer, slower-paced novels for my audio books. There’s just something about being read to, while my hands are engaged, that transports me into the world of the novel completely. It’s so relaxing, it’s almost akin to meditating. I’ve learned the hard way to not attempt to do any type of math while listening to my audio book. My math skills are sketchy at best when I’m paying attention. When I’m not, forget it. I’ve contributed many expensive fabrics to my scrap bin because I did math while my book was on.

If I can’t sleep at night, I often put on head phones and listen to my book. No matter how good the book is, I’ll drop off within minutes. Not so with the reading a book to myself. If I’m into the book, I’ll read until it’s finished. Chapters are like eating Cheetos for me. Just one more and then I’m done. I say this until the book, or bag — sometimes both, simultaneously, is done.

I’ve made it through audio books I never would have stuck with had I read them instead of listened to them. I listened to and enjoyed “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett which is all about a cathedral builder in 12 Century England. There’s a lot of detail about architecture and the functions of the different parts of the cathedrals. Personally, a bit too much detail for my taste. It felt like Follett did all this research on cathedral building and, by God, he was going to include it in his book. I never would have finished this kind of book if it had not been “read to me.”

I listened to all three “Century Trilogy” books by Ken Follett, too. The books start before WWI and continue through the 1980’s. All three were awesome books, and I made two full quilts while listening to them. One of them was the quilt I gave my mom for Mother’s Day two years ago. The second one is done in the same pattern as the one I gave my mom and it’s sitting on the back of my couch now.

I also listened to all three of Jane Smiley’s “Last Hundred Years Trilogy” books where every year is a chapter in the life of one family. The book follows the lives of one family for one hundred years, one year at a time. They are amazing books. Some characters are in every book and I cried when each met their demise. They felt like family to me. I still think of some of them, and I listened to those books over a year ago.  My mom used the quilt I made while I listened to these books while she was in the hospice.

With audio books, not only do the characters become friends, but the reader of the books, does too. I think that’s why I’m so fond of trilogy’s. The same actor reads all the books in the trilogy. Sometimes the same actor reads all the books by the same author. I love it when that happens. I think I’m seriously in love with Scott Brick who narrates all the Nelson DeMille novels. When I heard him read the DeMille’s “Gold Coast” which is more of a literary novel, and not at all like DeMille’s usual thriller/espionage genre novels, I knew I was hooked on this guy, and I’d have to give the rest of DeMille’s works a try.

I’m in a middle of listening to a Scott Brick/Nelson DeMille novel now. And I’m reading two books on my Kindle. One that I don’t like much, but feel compelled to finish because it’s gotten such good reviews, and another historical fiction piece that I do like.

The problem is, I can’t enjoy any of them. Not right now. This happened to me, too, when my dad died. I simply couldn’t focus enough to get involved in a book. I sit and read and my mind wanders. I can’t see the scene the author is giving me. Even listening to the book doesn’t help.

So what to do?

When my dad died, I had just enrolled in a class to study writing for young adults at Mt. Mary University. I ended up dropping the class that semester but I had already purchased the books. One book, a Young Adult time-travel book, really interested me. (I can’t remember the name right now, but it’s still sitting on my bookshelf in my bedroom. I haven’t been able to part with it.) When I couldn’t read anything else, I picked up that, and it engaged me. For the short time it took me finish it, it took me outside of my world and into it’s world. It was such a relief to escape for awhile. I still think of it as the first book I was able to read when my dad died. My first step to healing and normalcy.

I don’t have a lot of Young Adult books lying around and I’m not in the mood to search for new ones that good.

So what to do? Visit old friends.

I read a short article in the newspaper yesterday evening about Old World Wisconsin having a Laura Ingalls Wilder week later this month to honor her Little House on the Prairie books. I remembered my Little House books and the yellow cover of the paper backs. I liked how they were all the same color and the same style, except for “Farmer Boy”, which looked a bit different and didn’t have the yellow cover. But that was okay because it was about Almanzo’s life and not Laura’s.

I knew what I had to do.

I went to Amazon and purchased “Little House in the Big Woods”, the first book in the Little House series for my Kindle. I’m not sure if I read it to myself the first time around or if my mom read it to me.  But I read it to myself last night. And for the first time since my mom died, I was transported out of my world into Laura’s world within the dense woods of Wisconsin with Ma and Pa, sister Mary and Jack the dog.  The words were familiar, and I knew the characters immediately. It was like going home, back to a place and time that is as remote to me now as envisioning myself at the age of 50 would have been when I was first reading that book. Time travel at it finest.

I’m looking forward to returning Laura’s world today. I may even download the audio version this afternoon. Cherry Jones is the actress that reads it and I love her acting so I know I’ll love her performance on the audio book. Plus, “Little House in the Big Woods” is only one book of nine in the series. Hopefully, I won’t need to get through all nine to get back to my book friends in the here and now. But if I do, that’s okay. I know I’ll be among friends either way.

61vGDoozYXL._AA300_

12:30 pm 11/14/17