What the heck, it’s a snow day, I didn’t have to go anywhere…(okay, another night when I’m very tired.)

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? Been a while.

DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?
Yes, and so do most people who see it. It’s beautiful (she says modestly.)

DO YOU HAVE KIDS?
One daughter, Elizabeth, named for her birth mother, Lizz, and me. How’s THAT for symmetry.

IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?
If I saw me in a good mood….of course, on a bad day NO one would see me so I guess, yes I would. I can be fun. I play well with others.

DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT?
Try not to, except humorously, because sarcasm verges on hurtful. There’s a couple people I know who who are so funny–but so sarcastic–that I am never quite sure what to think of the things they say to me.

DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS?
Lost ’em long ago, or I’d have starved to death.

WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
No, my spine has been insulted enough, thank you.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL?
Old fashioned oatmeal with cream and maple-cinnamon sugar, or homemade granola with yogurt and berries. But I also like puffed red wheat, or Spoon Sized Shredded Wheat and Bran. As you can see, I am not really into the kind of cereal that turns the milk purple!

DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF?
Almost always. 

DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG?
Used to think no, but looking back at my life, I’d have to say I’m stronger than most anyone I know. I don’t know very many who could have endured all that I have and remain standing.

FAVORITE ICE CREAM?
So many…hard to say. Chocolate, I guess, is still my favorite, but raspberry or apricot sorbet is right up there.

WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE?
Their hands. Always their hands. I fell madly in love with Gerald’s hands almost at once…they are beautiful. Still.

RED OR PINK?
What, I can’t have both? Says who?

WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
The fact that having bipolar disorder makes my moods unpredictable, and I can get irritated or hurt so easily.

WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
My grandparents, and my two Uncle Bobs. And Anne. I have found so many people I’d thought never to see again, but I miss Anne every day. 

WHAT KIND OF SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?
Barefoot. I’d go that way always, if I could. (Yes, it’s cold but I’m all wrapped up in an afghan as I work here and my toes are quite toasty.)

WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO?
Peter Coyote narrating a documentary about hippies.

IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?
Indigo.

FAVORITE SMELLS?
Freshly washed hair, Gerald after his morning shower and shave (he wears a great scent!) and line-dried laundry, especially sheets.

WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
Gerald. Which is always fun, because he knows it’s me when I call, and answers the phone in any number of fun ways: “Talk to me!” or “I told you never to call me here!” or, best of all….”I was just thinking about you.”

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SPORT TO WATCH?
I am not a sports fan, but I have to say, Stephane Lambiel was poetry in motion, on ice.

HAIR COLOR?
Honey blonde.

EYE COLOR?
Green. 

DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS?
No. Glasses, except for reading. Yeah, that’s what I said!

FAVORITE FOOD?
Shrimp.

SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
Happy Endings

LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED?
“Madison.” Ever heard of it?

SUMMER OR WINTER?
Summer. “In the midst of winter I learned there was in me an invincible summer.” Words to live by! (That being said, I am enjoying this extreme winter. I know, I know…but I like snow.)

HUGS OR KISSES?
Hugs. The kind that don’t let go for a long, long time.

WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
“Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Tech

WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON TV LAST NIGHT?
Cannot remember.

FAVORITE SOUND?

Good music, and the laughter of my family.
ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES?
Beatles

WHERE IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN?
Toronto, so far. We WILL go to England and Scotland one day.

DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT?
My writing. And my ability to make a lot out of not much.

WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN?
Goshen, Indiana.

So….did you learn anything you didn’t know? Any surprises? I’d love to hear YOUR answers to some of these!

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A good weekend to read (more books for 2014)

Everyone’s talking about the blizzard of ’78, since it started on January 25th that year. I never forget it, because it was my senior year in high school. Kind of cool, at the time, because it was a month past the Christmas break and we got more than two weeks off school again (and didn’t have to make up a single day of it.)

And now here we are in what is the worst winter I’ve experienced since we moved back to Indiana in 2006. I really don’t mind winter weather. I shop and stockpile carefully (which is not the same as hoarding, not by a long shot) and so I never have to do the frantic dash to the store for milk and bread. For one thing, being snowed in always makes me want to bake bread, probably because that’s what I always did with Mom when we had snow days. We’d make all the recipes we had been wanting to try, and bread was always part of it. I make much better bread these days, but that has little to do with snow days.

There is something about this kind of weather that slows everything down. I guess I could be productive and tackle a bunch of chores, but I never want to and I can easily talk myself out of it. Nope. What I mostly want to do is read.

And read I have.

10) ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes. I read so many book reviews, and put as many books on request at the library as I can, that sometimes when they come in and I pick them up, I look at them and wonder why I wanted to read it. This was one of them. But it is a book I will be forever grateful to have read. It was so good I went on the library site and immediately requested the other books they have. I hope they will be as good. It’s some of the best writing ever, told through the eyes of several different characters but mostly through Louisa’s, who has been hired to care for a quadriplegic man. Once she’s begun, she learns that her employer is hoping desperately that Lou, as she is mostly called, can make Will want to change his mind about assisted suicide. I found myself pulling for her; she had asked so little of life before this, and you can see her bloom and grow and care about things, really care, in a way she has never let herself do before.

It’s serendipitious, but the other two books I read were re-reads, one because I am going to lead a discussion on it next month and the other because it made that one come to mind. And both, I think, ring more true for me because of the weather, as you will see…

 11) BETTER OFF: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende. (This is the selection for my book group.) How simple would you be willing to make your life? There are so many stories now about tiny houses, and so many worries about money that most of us are cutting back, cutting down, or even going without altogether. The kind of weather we are currently experiencing makes power outages a very real possibility, and while you can do without it if you must, you’re always relieved when all is up and running again, am I right? But would you choose to go off the grid for 18 months? What would you miss most? How many of the changes you’d make would become permanent?

And that made me think of an old favorite:

12) DRINKING THE RAIN by Alix Kates Shulman. Going through the breakup of her second marriage, Shulman moves to what she calls the nubble, a very simple, primitive summer home. No electricity, no running water (she has a pump) and no bathroom. And the longer she stays there, the more serene she becomes. Instead of hauling overpriced groceries on the ferry, she pulls Euell Gibbons from the shelf and learns what kind of plants and fish are edible; previously she had only ever picked enough apples for a pie or gathered a few raspberries. She has none of the appliances she was used to, and goes back to slower, simpler ways of making bread or squeezing juice. But far beyond nourishing her body, she feeds her soul. She slows down, and savors moments, and overcomes old fears and worries. She truly learns to live in the moment and enjoy what she has, even if others would marvel that she chooses to live with so little.

I can identify with that.

I had only ever read Shulman’s fiction before, and this book was a wonderful, eye-opening surprise. Later books of non-fiction were equally good. I can’t even remember the last time I read one of her novels, but I read this one, and A GOOD ENOUGH DAUGHTER, at least once every year.

Wicked winter weather is supposed to continue here through Wednesday….fortunately, as the saying goes, I cannot live unless I am surrounded by books. There is plenty to read here. Plenty to eat. We’re out of a few things, but we’ll live without cheese and potatoes until we can get to the store! We are warm and comfortable, and another good book awaits.

A theme song for my life….

Someone asked me tonight if I had one. I’ve had several.  This one figures prominently in my novel, as it is the song that Cooper and Maggie danced to, just one dance, at the prom when he was a junior and she was a freshman.

Wildflower (by Skylark)

She’s faced the hardest times
you could imagine
and many times her eyes fought back the tears;
and when her youthful world 
was about to fall in,
each time her slender shoulders
bore the weight of all her fears,
and a sorrow no one hears
still rings in midnight silence 
in her ears…

Let her cry, for she’s a lady,
let her dream, for she’s a child–
let the rain fall down upon her
She’s a free and gentle flower, 
growing wild…

and if by chance I should hold her
let me hold her for a time,
but if allowed just one possession
I would pick her from the garden 
to be mine…

Be careful how you touch her, 
for she’ll awaken
and sleep’s the only freedom that she knows;
and when you walk into her eyes
you won’t believe–
the way she’s always paying
for a debt she never owes,
and a silent wind still blows
that only she can hear and so she goes…

Let her cry, for she’s a lady,
let her dream, for she’s a child–
let the rain fall down upon her
She’s a free and gentle flower, 
growing wild…… 

This was a one-hit wonder, but oh…the opening guitar chords are so haunting, and the lyric is so….me.

Not just Maggie.

Me.

There was another one, too, years later.  I still think of it, and the man who let me slip out of his life, whenever I wear a red dress.

Put on Your Red Dress (by Martin Page)

Over the railway lines
Under the bridge,
Where we met first time–
I’m coming across town
Walking to your house…

Yesterday weighs you down
O, lonely girl, won’t you come on out?
I swear it’ll be all right
On this holy night…

Put on your red dress, baby
And wear your smile,
Say goodnight to your sister
We’re gonna walk for miles–
We’ll go where the boats are leaving
In St. George’s Bay,
And when I look into your eyes
There’s one thing that I can say
‘No one loves you this way…’
So put on your red dress, baby,
And one more time–
Let me see you smile…

There’s the abandoned train
Where we sheltered from the rain,
Somehow, I knew someday
We’d come here again–

Put on your red dress, baby,
And wear your smile,
Say goodnight to your sister
We’re gonna walk for miles–
We’ll go where the boats are leaving
In St. George’s Bay
And when I look into your eyes
There’s one thing that I can say
‘No one loves you this way…’
So put on your red dress, baby,
And one more time
Let me see you smile…

Here on this empty road
We stare at ourselves
In a shop window
Funny we seem so right
On this holy night

So put on your red dress, baby,
And wear your smile,
Close the door right behind you
We’re gonna walk for miles–
We’ll go where the boats are leaving
In St. George’s Bay
And recall the tenderness
As we sit by the waterside;
O I can never forget
That I was the man who let you
Slip out of his life
So put on your red dress, baby,
And let me one more time
Make you smile tonight….

And, for a time….

It’s In the Way That You Use It  (by Eric Clapton)
It’s in the way that you use it,
It comes and it goes.
It’s in the way that you use it,
Boy don’t you know.

And if you lie you will lose it,
Feelings will show.
So don’t you ever abuse it,
Don’t let it go.

Nobody’s right till somebody’s wrong.
Nobody’s weak till somebody’s strong.
No one gets lucky till luck comes along.
Nobody’s lonely till somebody’s gone.

I’ve seen dark skies, never like this.
Walked on some thin ice, never like this.
I’ve told you white lies, never like this.
Looked into true eyes, never like this.

It’s in the way that you use it
Boy don’t you know
So don’t you abuse it
Man don’t let it go….

I think that was more about getting my feet back underneath me.

So was this.

Heal Me (by Melissa Etheridge)

Ain’t it crazy
For a moment there
This felt just like dying
But now I see that something inside
Is coming alive
Ain’t it crazy

No use running from a revolution
I just surrender to this evolution

Heal me lift me
Take me to the other side
Amazing grace
Has touched my face
And the sweet sound doesn’t lie

Ain’t it crazy
For a moment there
I just gave up trying
But now I see
You can let the light in
You can begin again
Ain’t it crazy
I lay me down in this sweet perfection
I am a witness to my resurrection

Heal me lift me
Take me to the waterside
Drop me in let me swim
Let everyone know
I’ll be coming home again

Make no mistake
I’m wide-awake
Ain’t it crazy

Heal me lift me
Take me to the other side
I’ll take what I’ve earned
These lessons I’ve learned
I’m ready for the ride
Heal me lift me
Take me and my soul will fly
My battered heart will make a new start
Let everyone know
I’ll be coming home again
Heal me lift me
Take me to the waterside
Drop me in
Come on and watch me swim
Let everyone know
I’ll be coming home again

Yeah, when I reached that point I was ready for new beginnings, and that led to this, on a beautiful October afternoon….

Grow Old With Me (by John Lennon)

Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be;
When our time has come,
We will be as one;
God bless our love–
God bless our love.

Grow old along with me,
Two branches of one tree;
Face the setting sun,
When the day is done;
God bless our love–
God bless our love.

Spending our lives together,
Man and wife together;
World without end,
World without end….

Grow old along with me,
Whatever fate decrees,
We will see it through,
For our love is true;
God bless our love–
God bless our love.

Who’s to say what the next one will be, and why….

Bookishness

I like asking you questions, seeing if any of you who stop by here to read (thank you for doing that!) will answer….

Do you prefer to read hardcover or paperback books? Hardcover or larger sized paperbacks? Borrow? I like hardcover best, or quality/trade paperbacks, because they have more substance, you’re not fighting a too-tightly glued spine as you do with mass market paperbacks (which is the reason they crack so quickly if not handled carefully.) I have noticed that Algonquin books puts out smaller hardcovers than most publishers do, and they use a particular finish to their jackets that make their books pure joy to hold. This isn’t the best way to describe it, but the only way I can–their jackets remind me of the feel of sea glass in my hands. (And of course this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read a mass market!)

Do you have a favorite place to read in your home? I love to read in bed, but I also like to wrap up in one of my mom’s wonderful afghans or one of my very old, soft quilts, in front of the fire, and dive in to a good book. If I can’t do that, I curl up in my favorite chair, ‘the Mommy chair,’ which is a big fat overstuffed armchair on rockers, bought for the advent of the Kid (who is now the Teen and who sits in the Mommy chair more than I ever get to!) and fall in. 

 Do you have a favorite place to read away from, or outside of, your home? I LOVE lying in a hammock in the shade and reading, and I love reading on the beach. I get terribly restless when we’re traveling if I can’t read, so I’m usually the nighttime driver! I also read while I am waiting in a doctor’s office, because if they’re running late it helps me stay cool about it.

Do you snack while you read? Sometimes, usually something like grapes and cheese and crackers, none of which leave fingers tacky, because I will NOT mark up a book that way. Not often, though. I’m much more likely to have a drink–a glass of wine, a margarita, a cup of tea–than food. Books ARE my food. 

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? Well, that depends. Textbooks are heavily highlighted and underscored, and so is my Bible, although both were frightening, at first, having been raised never ever to desecrate such books that way! When I lived alone I found that I underscored particular passages that moved me, because there was no one to whom I could say, “Listen! oh, listen to this!” and then read it aloud….marking those lines made me feel they were better heard, somehow.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? Gaaah!!–laying the book flat open? NO WAY. Nor would I dog-ear a page. I use the front or back fold of the jacket, if there is one, and if not, a bookmark. And yes, I have quite a collection of them, but really any piece of paper will do–it amuses me when I buy used books and find they’ve been marked with business cards, boarding passes, and the like. Makes me wonder, did whoever owned it first actually finish reading?

Fiction, non-fiction, or both? Both. There’s actually little I won’t read; sci-fi/fantasy is about it. And I really have tried to like those, but I just cannot get into them.

 Hardcopy or audiobooks? I prefer reading to myself, but if I am ‘reading’ an audiobook, it’d better be well-read or forget it. I like them best when read by the author, because then I feel as if I’m hearing every pause, every nuance, every inflection, exactly as the author did when creating.

 Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point? If I cannot read it all at once–and if it’s good, that’s what I want most–I always at least finish a chapter or a section. Even when re-reading a favorite, I will still tell myself I’m going to stop at page 100, or the end of chapter 12, or whatever.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? Write it down to look it up later? Just try to infer what it means from the rest of the sentence, and keep going? It’s been a long time since I’ve come across words I don’t know, and when I do they’re usually foreign words or phrases. So a few years back I bought a small phrasebook for just such moments.  I like looking up what I don’t know; because once I know it, it’s mine forever. But I’ve been known to write down words that were particularly perfect for certain phrases and passages, and I’ve also been known to simply place the unknown in the bigger picture of the sentence, and figure it out. 

What is the last book you bought? Hmmm..I buy them in such quantity–used or not–that it’s hard to say. I have an eternally ongoing list of books TO buy. But since it’s lying here beside me, it was two cookbooks; one is for the book group I belong to. That one is AN EVERLASTING MEAL: COOKING WITH ECONOMY AND GRACE, by Tamar Adler. And the other is Bobby Deen’s FROM MAMA’S TABLE TO MINE. It’s time to revamp old ‘comfort food’ recipes into lighter, healthier versions. 

What is your all time favorite book? Now, how many times have I answered this? Good grief…is there anyone out there who knows me who DOESN’T know that it’s Anton Myrer’s THE LAST CONVERTIBLE? Because that has been true since 1979, it seems mighty safe to say that it will always be my favorite. But I want to know what your favorite book is! And why!

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can read more than one at a time? Depends. There are books that demand undivided attention and they receive it; there are others that are almost picaresque, and can be read in small pieces here and there, as if each chapter is a separate essay or story, and lose none of their power for being read so. It’s true that there are books everywhere; in certain places–by the bathtub, in my car, in my bag or beach bag, I choose to put old favorites that I love so much I can open them at ANY page and begin to read wherever I land, and feel just fine about it.

Do you like re-reading books? Of course I do. It’s like visiting old friends. And what never ceases to amaze me is that even such as my favorite, which is practically committed in its entirety to my memory, still will present itself in new and different ways, making me re-think a line or phrase in a way I never had before. I think that’s an equal blend of skillful writing and whatever is going on in my life at the time, and how that colors my thinking.

BONUS: Are there certain themes/ideas/qualities you tend to be drawn to in books? Sure. I like ‘armchair traveling’ a lot–books about places I’ve yet to go but want to; I like cooking memoirs because I know how much love I put into my own cooking. I want anything I read to be well-written; I don’t want stupid names and stupid plots. I don’t want graphic gore and detailed autopsies, but that doesn’t mean I cannot read crime novels or even true crime, because the workings of the mind are fascinating. I love biographies, especially those of authors and writers.

I want whatever I read to be so engrossing I can hardly stand to wait to the end (but I do–never ever do I read ahead) and then the minute I finish, I want to be disappointed that there’s no more, and so begin to read it all over again. I’d love to think that’s how someone is going to feel when they read some of my own work.

Random things in no particular order…

Well, let’s see…..what are things no one knows that you might find interesting??? I’m tired tonight, so…

 I was a MatMaid in high school. My mom thought that sounded awful, ‘you’ll ruin your reputation’ kind of thing, but all it meant was being a sort of pep club for the wrestling team–taping down mats, cutting up oranges, handing them towels, and cheering. And since we had a state champion in 1975, I’m still proud to have been a MatMaid.

 I don’t like pro sports. Could not care less about the SuperBowl, and all that. I do like high school football, but that comes more from memories of performing in halftime shows for so many years. Now that my honey plays vintage base ball, I enjoy the heck out of that, but it’s more like living history mixed with theatre. I also liked watching my daughter at her track events.

And…I do like a lot of sports-themed movies.

 I was baptized the same night as my brother. And we took driver’s training together.  We had a triple date the night of my senior prom: me and my fiance, him and his girlfriend, and two friends of mine. I miss being as close with him as we used to be, and I keep wishing that could change.

 I’ve had several jobs I really loved because I pushed hard to get them, being so sure I could do them and do them well even though I never had, before. This led to teaching aerobics, apprenticing as a floral designer, more than a decade as the camp head cook (which I returned to last year)  writing newspaper columns (which I would like to do again) and working as a diet counselor. And I loved being a bookseller.

 I could have had a live-in job working for Benjamin Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn, caring for their baby (who is no baby now, but healthy, happily married, I follow him on Facebook because I still feel sort of connected to him!) I gave it some serious thought, loving journalism and politics as I do–living in Washington was as energizing as only one other city I’ve known, and that is, obviously, NYC–but in the end, decided against it. Still, it’s nice to know how much I was wanted.

 I have faced down my own death. I will never forget what it was like, looking into the face of someone who wanted to kill me and so nearly succeeded. I don’t think I have ever fought so hard.

 I am manic/depressive (bipolar, it’s called now) and I lean more toward depressive, which surprises most people who know me. Conversely, I can be in a really black, bad place, but if I know you are, too, I can pull it together to help you so much you would never know how I’m feeling. And that’s what keeps me going, sometimes….if I can help ‘your’ hurt, I don’t have time to think about how ‘I’ hurt.

 I am trying to learn French, Italian, and Spanish…just because I want to. I listen to language CDs alone in the car, and I seem to have an ear for it, because the words are usually pronounced the way I think they’ll be.

My wedding band was a wide, heavy, carved Victorian design, made in London, a blend of scrolls and orange blossoms. When we were seeking what we wanted, we realized that I loved the floral designs and Gerald loved the scrolls; this pattern is a compromise, just as our marriage has been–something for you, something for me, creating an ‘us’ unlike any other. I  wore it close to 25 years, and never grew tired of its beauty. Funny though…Gerald’s identical band is worn almost completely smooth, the design nearly erased, and we can’t figure out why.

I lost it, and my engagement ring, the weekend we moved into this house. I still miss them, and have asked to have them replaced for our anniversary next year. 

I have never hit an animal when driving. I pray I never do. In the same vein, I detest hunting, have never held a gun in my hands and never will. And if you do, I don’t want to hear about it, sorry.

I like to cook for people, and I don’t mean just having them over to dinner. I mean making meals when someone is sick or just home with a new baby, things like that. When I was a rental agent and manager of an apartment complex in Kentucky, I spent a lot of spare time cooking for the freezer, and every time I rented a place I gave the new tenants a jar of homemade pasta sauce, a box of spaghetti, and a loaf of homemade bread.

 I like being given a book to remember someone by, because I like knowing my hands rest where theirs once did. Makes me feel closer to them. One of the worst losses I have ever known came from someone I trusted donating all the books she’d been storing for me….I lost irreplaceable things that had belonged to loved ones long gone. 

 I am never bored. There are not enough hours in the day to do all the things I like to do.

 I want to have a dollhouse and make every bit of furnishing, food, etc. that goes into it. A very dear friend gave me a kit to make the house, and a lot of furniture. When time allows, I’ll set it up on a table so I can work at it whenever I want, and not have to put things away in between. I’ve got all kinds of books for making miniatures. It’ll be a fun project and I want to be sure to add some touches that are distinctly Gale, in honor of that friend.

 I like to do the laundry. I LOVE hanging things outside to dry when I can. I like folding it and creating nice neat stacks of things. I don’t mind ironing, but I hate to put the laundry away.

 I have been a Marine fiancee and an Army wife. 

 I have only ever pierced my ears, just once. No other piercings. No tattoos. I took modeling classes when I was 21 and my teachers told me then that I am a ‘classic’ beauty, and I have held to that ever since. I don’t want to do anything to my body that I’d hate ‘when I am an old woman….’

 I have never tried drugs, and I get really angry when I hear people say that ‘you didn’t grow up in the ’70s and not do drugs.’

I wish my life included a few more black-tie events now and then, because I love dressing up that way and it’s been a long time since I’ve had such an occasion. 

 I had Legionnaire’s Disease…and lived to tell about it. 

 I love making people laugh. 

 I love snow days as much as any kid. They always make me want to bundle up and go out and play….and before this day is over, I just might. 🙂

Okay, YOUR turn!

A self-assignment of sorts (more books read in 2014)

About a month ago, I read the huge and hugely discussed biography of J.D. Salinger.  I’ve read all his books, but I never fell under any sort of spell, never thought he was some mythical god (and yes, that is a deliberate lowercase.)  It made me pull two other books I already owned, and read them again. (Oddly enough, it didn’t make me pull Salinger’s own works to read again!)

I bought the first book, *AT HOME IN THE WORLD, by Joyce Maynard, simply because it was her newest book. I had liked her writing since first reading it and I owned her previous five books (she has since written more) so really, buying this one was purely a matter of routine. I had no idea what it would contain, beyond the fact that it was her autobiography, and I like any biography of an author whose work I enjoy.

When I began reading it, I was surprised to find how she put such a good public face on what had so often been a not-so-good private life, beginning with her childhood. She writes her nonfiction in such a way that I always feel we are simply sitting over coffee, sharing the way women friends often do.

And then, there it was….what I’d never known about her. Though I’d suspected that the character of Ann in her first novel, BABY LOVEwas about Joyce herself, I’d never thought that the many years older Rupert was anyone famous. Reading the autobio though, there was no question who Ann and Rupert were: Joyce, and J.D. Salinger.

She’s never been forgiven for writing the book, but to her eternal credit she has long since forgiven herself for something no one should ever have to forgive herself for: falling deeply in love and believing she was equally loved.

The second book, **DREAM CATCHER, by Margaret Salinger, is told through the eyes of a daughter, not a former lover. And yet there is no doubt that this man deeply wounded both young women; Peggy, as she was called then, was just a few years younger than Joyce at the time that Joyce was living with Salinger. Both women speak of that in their own books. I got the feeling they would have liked each other very much, as friends, if they had met under any other circumstances and with no one person in common.

Like Joyce, Peggy has never been forgiven for telling her truth, either. It was a very different sort of truth than what Joyce had said, but she too needed to speak it. The saddest thing is that the true soul of each book was lost to many who never so much as opened either of them. Neither book was written as a way to take down an ‘innocent’ man; the part of each book that dealt with Salinger was but one small part of two very complex, complicated lives, as each young woman learned to see herself through her own eyes, and no one else’s. That’s not easily done, says she who knows, when someone who means so much to you tells you that you are absolutely nothing.

And it all got me thinking….how easy it was for those who had elevated Salinger to a sort of mythical godlike status to automatically discount what the women said. How they must have been mistaken, or pathological, with some sort of agenda to torture and torment a genius who had no recourse but to retreat from the world….when the truth was that he had been retreating from the world for many years before either Joyce or Peggy were even born.

It reminded me of the very same sort of outcry just the week before when Woody Allen was praised at an awards ceremony, and all the old scandal of did he or didn’t he molest a 7 year old girl came right back and muddied the waters. So too was all the legal troubles with Roman Polanski and a young girl, remember? Did either director’s ‘genius’ negate what damage they might have done to a child?  And that made me remember even earlier, when Elia Kazan was honored at the Academy Awards, with some standing in tribute and others refusing to, stony-faced. He had named names, you recall; though every name was already known, though he was not the only one who did so.

Every one we ever idolize or idealize has a public persona, and a private one. Do we cover up the private truths at all cost to save tarnishing what we want them to be? If the truths revealed are not what we would like, must we automatically assume that the person revealing them had an agenda? that they could not be telling the truth at all?

And so I read these books again, as I had not for several years.  Having read much more about Salinger, now, than I had at first reading of either memoir, I still see them the same way. These two young women lived through things that should have broken, maybe even destroyed them–perhaps most of all, the complete and utter dismissal and disownment by a man they both loved so completely. But he was unable to destroy them. They are both bright, intelligent, articulate women. Beautiful women, strong and happy.

J.D. Salinger was a master craftsman when it came to the way he wrote….however, I find his work far more seductive in the letters he wrote to countless young women, to the words he spoke in his determination to first create and then preserve each in the state of perfection he demanded–the kind that could not be maintained for a lifetime.

In the end….I believe he was the loser, and they were richer not just for having known him, but for having survived him.

* 8) AT HOME IN THE WORLD
**
9) DREAM CATCHER

Which five characters from novels would you have dinner with?

We had similar discussions, once, on my favorite message board.

We talked about which five authors would you have dinner with: for me, that would have been Anton Myrer (yesterday’s post should make that clear, yes?) and John Steinbeck, William Shakespeare, Louisa May Alcott,  and Laura Z. Hobson.  And we’d discussed five poets: my choices were Lord Byron, Billy Collins, Rod McKuen (I actually DO know him, and have had drinks with him)  Emily Dickinson, and e.e. cummings.

Interesting mixes, don’t you think? Would have made for some lively dinner conversation.

I cannot recall if we discussed five characters, though, so I’m assuming we didn’t, because I think I would have remembered those five, just as I recall the others.  But here’s my choices…

You surely won’t be surprised that the one I’d choose first would be George Virdon; again, you have only to read yesterday’s post to understand that. George is as real to me as any person I know. There are many characters in THE LAST CONVERTIBLE that have wonderful qualities–Chris, the wonderful girl they all love, and Terry, and Liz, and Jean-Jean, the one who brought the Empress to Harvard in the beginning. But George won my heart. George was the one everyone depended on, the one who loved just one girl, knew he would always love just that one girl, no matter what.

He wasn’t too good to be true, though; don’t get me wrong. It’s funny….when I saw “Saving Private Ryan,” the character of Miller, played by Tom Hanks–that was George. I don’t know if that means Tom Hanks could have played George if they’d ever made a decent movie of this book, but the qualities that character possessed in that film–more than once I found myself thinking “That could be George.”

I’d choose Joselyn Stone–Jossie, as she prefers to be called–from Laura Z. Hobson’s UNTOLD MILLIONS, which is another book I’ve mentioned here before, as well. She was just 22 at the beginning of the book, smart and independent and eager to move into the next stage of her life now that college was behind her. I actually thought about trying my hand at copywriting, which is what Jossie did, even though she longed to be a journalist–which I had been, and thought of returning to that, too.  I read that book for the first time just as I was coming into a similar stage of my own life, and perhaps that is why Jossie is my favorite Hobson character, and this book my favorite of all Hobson’s work (which is stellar; again, don’t get me wrong!)

I suppose that’s the point right there: the characters I love most are those I can identify with.

Like the next one: Justine Wynter Morrison in BREAD ALONE, which was the first book I ever read by Judith Ryan Hendricks. And I read it when I was going through precisely the same thing, right down to considering a move to Seattle! Wynter is so well-written that I honestly felt as if I could open the door and she’d be there, and I would know her. We would be friends. We would work in the same bakery, creating new kinds of bread, and we would listen to the same kind of music, and together we’d get over broken hearts and move on to whatever life promised next.

Probably won’t surprise you, either, that I’d have loved to have dinner with Jo March. I remember asking for just two Christmas gifts when I was ten: Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN, and a diary. (Yes, I received them both.)

There were elements of me in Meg (love of home and husband and all things domestic)  and in Beth (shyness, love of music and cats and dolls)…no Amy….but a lot of Jo. I always wanted to write and I started trying when I was very young. I loved her exuberance, I loved her passions and even her temper; I loved how she would mess up, but would, with all penitence and remorse, do her best to make things right and try again. And again. (I did want her to marry Laurie, though…..good thing the Professor was as sweet as he was. I look at my own husband now and know I have married the same kind of man. Again…a good thing.) Jo would probably be the one who knocked over her wineglass at the table, but she would have started some wonderful word games, too, so no one would care about a spot on the tablecloth.

Last, but not least, I’d ask Ethan Allen Hawley, from John Steinbeck’s last novel, THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT. At first read (I was still quite young) I saw mostly his humor, his quips and wisecracks. As I grew older, though, got kicked around more myself, I saw the sadness, the loss, and understood his longing to take back what was lost. Every time I read it, I discovered more layers to the man, read more into his thoughts, and cared more about his wants. I wanted him to have what he wanted, simple as that, but not at the cost of his own soul.

And I actually made a good friend based on our mutual love and admiration of that novel. Nice. I think Steinbeck himself might have liked that.

So there you have it. Steaks on the grill, a wonderful salad, homemade bread (Wyn would expect nothing less) and strawberries and cream. Good wine. Good music. Wonderful, wonderful conversation. And at the end, we’d be trying to figure just how soon we could all get together again.