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Not Exactly More Joy #3, but close enough for a Monday: the half-remembered book image - Laura Wise

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January 21st, 2013


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05:11 pm - Not Exactly More Joy #3, but close enough for a Monday: the half-remembered book image
I've been thinking about stateless82's request for discussion of an obscure book. Knowing that she has recently revisited a lesser-known book of a once popular author (Betty Smith), I started thinking about books that had reached me decades ago. I was a teenager given to indiscriminate library investigations, reading books from the Adult section without understanding them. (Like Peter De Vries, comic novelist. I am remembering pulling one of his novels out of its place on the shelf, the old fluorescent lights overhead casting strange shadows in the silent cold section. I remember no details from the book itself but the vividly colored book cover, reds and blues, is still clear except for the title.)

What else? I went through an Algonquin Round Table period in high school, which actually meant I only read Robert Benchley and counted it good enough. (Dorothy Parker came later for me.) I read odd memoirs and autobiographies of twentieth-century show-business figures -- Harpo Speaks and Cavett a particularly odd pair, vaudeville and 60s nightclubs and Hollywood and NYC all mixed-up in my mind.

But as I was thinking about it, I remembered something else. It's not a whole memory, it's just....an image of evening light and a book of poetry.

When I was in the sixth grade, my family lived in western Canada; this meant that the books my mother (a reader as voracious and fast as I) took out of the public library were often also Canadian. I had no business reading my mother's books, but one chilly dark day I picked one up at random.

The novel was Canadian, set (I think) in Montreal. It was post-World-War -- II, perhaps? There was muted mid-century family drama, and a deeply unhappy protagonist whose name was David. In looking back I think that the book was delicately setting up that David's unhappiness was because he was gay -- a staple of a certain kind of fiction; anybody ever read Advise and Consent, the 1959 Allen Drury novel? -- but at the time I just didn't even begin to process it. It wasn't my kind of book, then or now, but there was one moment of magic.

Here's what I remember. One scene. No, it's not even a real scene, it's a fragment (possibly even just an imaginary fragment). Unhappy David sits in a study at twilight, reading the poetry of Rupert Brooke. That's it. I remember no other details, but the image of this lean, crumbling man, half-in and half-out of lamplight and the last of the sun, cradling a book of World War One poetry has stayed with me.

Who knows why?

So let me ask you -- is there a fragment of a book, an image, a scene, that has stayed with you long after you've forgotten the rest of the book?

If so, may it bring you joy. :)

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:desdemonaspace
Date:January 21st, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC)
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Can't help you with the Canadian novel, but I love Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker. I still use his How To Get Things Done as how I get things done.
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From:laurawise
Date:January 22nd, 2013 12:22 am (UTC)
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Oh, I love that Benchley essay!

What a great piece to reread, too. :) [goes off to do so]

Cheers for your week ahead!
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From:laurawise
Date:January 22nd, 2013 12:23 am (UTC)
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Oh, C, that's perfect. What a telling and powerful way to evoke emotion -- and how great of you to remember it. :)

Cheers and hugs to you!
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From:mamculuna
Date:January 22nd, 2013 12:52 am (UTC)

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The terrible series The Little Colonel (pro Confederate, ugh) was left from my mother's childhood in early 1920's, and I've forgotten most of it, but never the scene of the girl who thinks she's been blinded by measles, lying in the dark with a wet cloth on her eyes, while her playmates who spread the contagion feel guilty.

That's such an unromantic downer! Sorry! Most good things I've since tracked down and re-read, so they're not fragments anymore. But not re-reading that series.
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From:laurawise
Date:January 22nd, 2013 01:00 am (UTC)

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I totally understand why you wouldn't want to reread that series! Still, wow, that IS a powerful moment to recall.

I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want to reread the Canadian book either, to be honest, for fear of retrograde awfulness. But I'm glad to have my fragment of memory. ;)
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From:mamculuna
Date:January 22nd, 2013 01:05 am (UTC)

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I like remembering the summers in my grandmother's old house, hiding away in a dark hidden nook and reading the old books my mother and her brother had as children. I knew even at the time that there were some awful things in them, but something about the connection over time was really moving. And my uncle had Tarzan and Princess of Mars books, so all was not lost. Unfortunately, my memories of those have been too tainted and highjacked by pop culture for me to trust that they're my own.
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From:laurawise
Date:January 22nd, 2013 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Heee -- I am SURE it's not a Richler novel. The unhappy protagonist was (if I remember correctly) very, very WASPy. ;)

I so love the idea of hiding under a waterfall in a cave. Awesomeness.

Cheers and happy Tuesday!
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From:stateless82
Date:January 23rd, 2013 02:10 am (UTC)
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I used to read my mother's books all the time- some out in the open, some very much when she wasn't around. Jacqueline Susann's The Love Machine and Coffee, Tea or Me suffered greatly by being shoved under the chair cushions at a moment's notice.

There's one book I can't remember the name of at all- and I remember quite a bit about it. It was definitely a young adult novel in which a family goes to England for the summer, and stays in the home of their honorary uncle, a college friend of the parents. The oldest girl, along with her brother, meets a boy while gardening in an allotment? There's a lot of going about London, but at some point the girl finds out that her father might not be her father, that her mother, father and the honorary uncle used to all be together and no one knows who fathered her. This coming to a head freaks out her father who becomes very depressed, so she and her brother end up staying in England and going to school there, in a place they keep comparing to the Gormenghast books. At the end I think she sneaks away from the school for a weekend, and when she gets back to London she finds her mother there with the uncle and she goes and finds the boy and I don't remember what happens after that.

Now you'd think that if I cam remember that the girl's knees used to pop so much that she got called Flay at the boarding school, I could remember the name of the book, wouldn't you?
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From:laurawise
Date:January 23rd, 2013 01:03 pm (UTC)
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Coffee, Tea or Me! I remember reading it too, although I remember nothing about the content (other than it was about a flight attendant).

Memory is a funny thing! That England-family-and-popped-knees book sounds like an amazing (and rather disturbing) read, by the way.

EDITED TO ADD: Cheers, hugs, and thanks for the prompt!

Edited at 2013-01-23 01:03 pm (UTC)
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From:mobile_alh
Date:January 24th, 2013 12:43 am (UTC)
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There was a paperback copy of a book cheerily entitled "You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger" that I found lying around the house when I was 12 or so...a mostly humorous look at the OSS from recruitment through WWII.

It was only much later that I realized it was light reading for my father who spent most of his adult life as a member of the Army's CIC ( Counter Intelligence Corps.)

I do stil remember it fondly.
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From:laurawise
Date:January 24th, 2013 12:11 pm (UTC)
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Oh, what a great memory. And the book sounds wonderful, too. :)

Thanks, ALH, and more joy!

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