Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My Madelines

It's one of those books I've always meant to read, since I was in junior high. I think the book even made that hundred greatest list of English-language novels that came out a few years ago. Now I'm determined to read it. My friend Teeter read it a long time ago, and she recommends it: A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith.

Now, this has got to be an example of my contrary thinking: I skip over the best-known novels and go for something more obscure by the same author. Example here: I skipped over A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and read JOY IN THE MORNING, which I found engrossing but mildly saccharine.

This is about as bad as Harry's having read ROBINSON CRUSOE and I haven't. (still working on getting the Classics Illustrated version, blush) Teeter is my age, but she's always saying that she's not a reader and she only likes to read once in a while (hard for me to imagine). But she's read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and I haven't!!! Something else I found out: She read RICH MAN, POOR MAN by Irwin Shaw right around the time of the miniseries. Dang! I only read it this year. And again, this was only after I read one of his lesser-known novels, LUCY CROWN.

What am I doing, trawling for book ideas on sites like bookcrossing.com? Maybe I should just poll high schoolers and my so-called self-described "nonreading" friends!

OK, I'm over it. I think.


In other book-related type stuff, I was flipping through old PEOPLE magazines, and I came across a letter to the editor from one Meredith Kornfeld of Larkspur, California. Meredith and I went to camp together. Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. 1978. We were in the same cabin, sardined in with about 6 other girls. Our discipline was poetry. Meredith wrote one that I remember about a guy who got his parts blown off in World War I & now he was working at a meaningless job: "He only got the job because he was a veteran/A half-veteran." I loved her stuff, found it much more palatable than the nature stuff the other fledgling poets were dredging up daily for those 2 weeks in June.

Meredith was good company, but something that I will always remember her for is that she came to camp with plenty of books to read. (I didn't bring ANYTHING to read! What was wrong with me back in those days?!?) I *think* she brought THE WOMEN'S ROOM and I read some of that, but I *know* she brought EAST OF EDEN. I was looking through her books and I recognized Steinbeck's name from English classes in the 10th and 11th grades. "What's this?" I said curiously.

"Read it." said Meredith. "It's really good. You'll like it."

Even though I had known Meredith only a couple of days, I trusted her reading instincts completely. I latched onto EAST OF EDEN and went into one of my more blissful "reading comas". Camp counselors and bunkmates and the Poets-in-residence talked to me and urged me to join in activities, but it all seemed as if their voices were coming from far away. No one could really communicate with me until EAST OF EDEN was finished. Then they could only communicate with me a little because I was going back reading my favorite parts (all the Cathy/Kate chapters, some of which went slightly over my head).

Books are like Proust's madelines for me, bringing back such a rush and a sense of where I was and how I felt while reading whatever I was reading. EAST OF EDEN and Meredith Kornfeld will be forever linked for me, just like THE PERFECT STORM and a hotel room in Las Vegas and my not wanting to leave the room and my reading coma, and my husband snarling: "What the hell's wrong with you? We came to Vegas to have fun!"

Uh huh, honey. Whatever you say. Fun? I'm having fun.


This seems like my longest blog entry ever, but I have to write about discovering Chuck Palahniuk! Manfred, Jr. rented "Fight Club", and started talking about it to me & I decided to watch it for myself. I really enjoyed it, and was inspired to look for Palahniuk books and learn about the author. I'm finishing up LULLABY, and Manfred, Jr. just gave me a copy of CHOKE. I'm hoping to hunt up a copy of the novel FIGHT CLUB.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I am going to try to read East Of Eden...you say I will like it,lets see... I found an old copy on our bookshelf from cindys college days...Its a little yellow paged and dog eared and thick, but if I can read a thick book like Rich Man poor Man when I was in Jr. High I am sure I can get through a 691 page book. I am off to Eden!! I'll let you know when I get back.

Anonymous said...

Hi, bybee. This is Meredith Kornfeld. I confess that I occasionally google myself and saw your posting! I am so flattered that I (or East of Eden) had such a strong effect on you. But what were you thinking when you didn't bring any books to camp? I am on a computer library and don't want to give out any personal information, but I will be getting a new computer and will email you again so I can give you my info. I think I know who you are but I don't want to give out any of your info either, but did we watch the TV movie of Helter-Skelter in OKC together? I love that you love Shirley Jackson; I discovered her just a couple of years later. I will be in touch soon!