Friday, February 13, 2015

Inch Forty-Nine: Nostalgic Reading

I am awaiting the arrival in the mail of two books from my past. These are titles that have teased my memory for years and I finally succumbed to the lure of Amazon and bought cheap copies of each.

The first book is An Empty Spoon by Sunny Decker. Decker was a young, white, idealistic, well-off college graduate who wanted to change the world in the late 1960s. Spoon is her memoir of her year of teaching inner city black youth in Philadelphia, capturing her triumphs and her failures, her shock at institutional racism, and the death of her naiveté in thinking she could change the lives of her students, let alone the world, in one short school year.

The other book winging its way to me is Dave's Song by Robert McKay. McKay was an Ohio author who wrote several short young adult novels. I believe most if not all set in Ohio. Dave's Song was the Ohioana winner for Juvenile Literature in 1969, which is probably why my classmates and I were reading it three years later in Arlene Gregory's sophomore literature class. It is a soft, safe romance between Nice Girl Kate and Lone Wolf Dave. Part of its appeal was Kate's desire to flee the stifling little Ohio town she was living in (a desire I recognized immediately and one that she abandoned in the very last sentence of the book, to my deep disappointment). (For the record, I would note that I did not want to date a Lone Wolf like the title character, I wanted to be a Lone Wolf like the title character.) The other lure of the book was McKay's weaving the lyrics and music of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" throughout the narrative. I had a 45 (yes, a 45) of Noel Harrison singing that song that I played repeatedly for several years until it wore out, it being the only remotely "pop" song I listened to in high school. (Take my word for it: my musical tastes in high school were as out of sync with those of my peers as were my intellectual interests.)

Both books were slim paperbacks. Both lingered in my life and were read occasionally for two decades or so, which means I carted them to Chicago, back to Ohio, to Oregon, to Ohio, to California, and back to Ohio once again during the years I owned them. Each eventually disappeared during one of several Book Purges that dotted my adult years.

I am looking forward to seeing the books again. I have been trying to pull a line from Spoon out of my memory, something about T. S. Eliot being wrong about April being the cruelest month. Decker said it was February, for reasons I cannot remember, but as I check this morning's temperature (5 degrees at 4:30 a.m.), I am convinced that she was on to something. And I just want to know if my memory serves me correctly and that the last words of Song are "and Columbus was just another dot on the map."

There is the risk in looking back across a gulf of four and half decades to books so continuously read at the time. That girl I used to be is long gone and the woman I am now has a hard time recalling her passions and ideals (other than my burning desire to get out of this town). These books may be insipid, they may disappoint, I may read them with 59 year old eyes and wonder what I was thinking at the time.

It's a roll of the dice.

When she was a few years older than I am now, Anne Morrow Lindbergh published the first of her several volumes of diaries and letters. I read Save Me A Unicorn, which covered her college years and post-college romance with Charles Lindbergh, in the same general high school years as Dave's Song and An Empty Spoon. (Unlike those two books,  AML is still on my bookshelf.) In looking back at her adolescent self, Anne wrote that she had a "certain respect" for the youngster who was "so many lives removed" from the older adult. "I can laugh at her and am often embarrassed by her, but I do not want to betray her. Let her speak for herself."

Thankfully, I no longer have my high school or college diaries, but my book choices are a form of diary keeping. I am eagerly waiting to see what two of those choices reveal. I am waiting for those choices to speak for that long ago me.


see you there! said...

It will be interesting to find out how the books work for you when you read them again. I'm not familiar with either on. I have read and liked Lindbergh though


Out My window said...

It's funny to go back and read a well loved book years later and yes we do change and grow up, see the world through different eyes, but isn't it fun to remember who you were back then. You just visit yourself for awhile and say that was me.