Grandma’s Story

Dear English-B Interpreter Friends,

(First, my letter to you to using words from Post #20)

This year I’ve pledged to read the most famous work of fiction that takes place in each US state. The list includes a seductive potpourri of classics (To Kill a Mockingbird, East of Eden), fast reads I’d otherwise dismiss (The Shining by Stephen King), and a few publications that will be a harrowing test of my resolve (A Painted House by John Grisham), yet, on the whole, my year in words seems promising. If I do not cop to my usual urge to leap to a new novel almost immediately after finishing another, I should be able to honor my secondary pledge to review all 51 mini-projects (yes, there are still only 50 states; out of reverence for my college years, I included the Washington, DC-based novel as well).

I found myself talking recently with Grandma about this venture (the famous Grandma who had a cameo in this earlier blog post), and her face lit up. She agreed that the current book (The Jungle) must be good because “everything by Upton Sinclair is wonderful” and commiserated at the thought of my having to read Stephen King and inquired fondly of authors she respected but who did not make the cut. This went on for some time. Then she paused, and in the quiet I tried to interpret her guileless, 92-year-young facial expressions forming and vanishing as she silently pondered a lifetime of words.

Her still blue eyes are now weak, and she misses the days when reading words did not equate to physical strain. I suggested audio books, which she peremptorily rebuffed: to Grandma, there is a look and feel to grasping a “regular old” printed book; there is the distinct smell of a new book, or a book on loan, or a book fortuitously pulled off an under-dusted shelf. The printed book invites our eyes to dance across pages and to delight in the subtle waft of air formed by ruffling back a page or a chapter; its weight and spine (paper or hard) force our hands and arms to bend or contract to accommodate; its font bespeaks whatever the typesetting trend at the time of publication. To Grandma, and I’d imagine to a great many, the printed book is a temptress, an impressing (pun intended) minx, a siren whose song lures more than audible books and echoes far deeper than e-readers or other digital screens that numb us with their extraterrestrial glow.

I find solace in books, whatever the format, and had made my suggestion of audio books in hopes that Grandma could latch onto the same sense of general reading pleasure I derive from my digital experience and not lose all claim to her precious pastime. But Grandma was obdurate; she understood perfectly well why I am partial to listening to fiction or traveling with an e-reader, but she merely smirked when she saw that I didn’t seem to comprehend why she was against abandoning printed books in favor of something new. It took me another two days of reflecting to grasp the depth of Grandma’s spurning my well-meaning recommendation. Her strongest argument had been in those priceless seconds of silence, when she was not referring at all to mere books, when the flickering  of her near-blind eyes was actually offering me a speechless narrative, gently revealing to me that life’s best stories can never truly be adapted to other formats.

Happy words,

*** From a 2015 article in the New Yorker that opened my eyes to the profession of bibliotherapist, here are five words to bring into the booth:
— from Ceridwen Dovey’s “Can Reading Make You Happy

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