Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Three times, he said proudly
People say most writers create stories from an anecdote (my friend went to Rome for the Coliseum and ended up turning Catholic) or a character (I saw this man in a three-piece suit bouncing a tennis ball in front of a posh restaurant). Stories begin either in character or narrative.
Some people even take sides, like Fords and Chevys. I'm a anecdote man myself, not by preference but predilection. Little stories tip something inside of me that won't be righted until I take a shot at telling them myself. I didn't learn to write in a class; I learned to write by taking little stories from ancient histories and trying to bring them alive.
Maybe that explains something I'm still rather shocked by--I've now read the same book three times. I'm serious.
Throughout my life I've been surrounded by readers who are heavy-hitters. Lots of students come to college knowing dang well that what they've always liked best is reading. I'm not one of those. Furthermore, I always found changing those kids distasteful. When you turn readers into analysts, something blessed gets lost. "See that symbol? See what she's doing here in that passage? What do you think of that?"--you know, English-teacher questions. Real readers are likely to be thinking something awful about the jackass in front spoiling his or her afternoon. They would just as soon read the book and let the kill-joy prof muck around for screwy hidden meanings.
I'm not exactly sure how I got registered with Goodreads, but I did, and that social media is its own kind of Hades, believe me. Some of my best students are signed up, and when I read the endless list of books they've read or are reading, I want to apologize for getting in their way during college. Not only that, I'm not one of them, never have been.
Not that reading is a chore--it isn't. I've got several books going at once these days, two on my iPod, both wonderful (Me Before You, a Brit novel that's totally engaging) and Benediction (I'm literally in the room with the characters; I know 'em). I browse regularly through two books of poetry (both poets introduced to me on the Writers Almanac: Joyce Sutphen's Straight Out of View and Liane Ellison Norman's Breathing the West ). Oh, yeah, and Chesterton's Orthodoxy. Sound impressive maybe? It's a pittance. Shoot, my ex-students' lists on Goodreads make me sound illiterate.
Sunday I finished a book I've now read three times--once in the late 80s, when it came out; again in 1995, when I taught a course in Holocaust Lit; and now, for the third time, just last weekend. And I loved it even more the third time.
I know that means nothing to my lost-in-space ex-students, some of whom have read the Hobbit a half-dozen times simply in the last year.
Yesterday's post emerged from this book's worn cover. A hundred anecdotes inside are similarly profound in their measure of the human character.
I didn't haul this book out of the attic, where most of our books are, seeking sheer reading pleasure. I'm stuck in a story I'm writing, mired in the imagination's own sticky red clay. There's a grandfather and a granddaughter in this story; the granddaughter has her story, the grandfather, I just figured out, does not.
So I went up to the attic and rifled through the boxes until I found When a Neighbor Came Calling, the red, leering face of Hitler on the cover. How about this? When the Allies took out a dike in Zeeland, flooding sent people out of their homes. When the fighting diminished, one old woman wanted badly to get back to her place to see how it fared, so an old man nailed a chair to a raft made of tree trunks, and the two of them went sailing back to see the desolation. I love that story.
I got what I needed--the old red paperback, creased and worn, is festooned with sticky notes. See 'em. I needed only one anecdote--I've marked a couple dozen in the only book in my whole library I've actually read three times.
I really should tell those old students, but I don't think they'd be impressed.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:30 AM