Thursday, October 20, 2016

At play in the dusty corners of my brain

There's a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry rips George for his obsession with books, in particular some he lent to an ex-girlfriend, which he enlists Jerry to reclaim so as to avoid getting sucked back into the relationship. "Books, books, I need my books," he mocks, then makes a crack about how the ending of Moby Dick changes if you read it a second time.

I'm a re-reader. When we finished off our basement, we made one room a library, with floor-to-ceiling shelves, to hold mostly my books. Every so often, I pick something off the shelf and give it a second (or third, or fourth) read. And when it's been long enough between reads, it's almost like the ending changes. Maybe not quite like Seinfeld implies (Ahab and the whale don't ever become good friends), but the story I remembered doesn't always jibe with the one I'm reading.

I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through At Play in the Fields of the Lord, by Peter Matthiessen. I bought it in a used book shop shortly after moving to Rochester in 2001, and read it sometime not long after that. I remembered the characters, generally, and the setting, generally, and the plot, generally, but, man, so much of it has seeped out of my brain over the past decade and a half. Like I forgot Billy Quarrier died halfway through, even to the point I was rooting for him not too, because he's just a kid and I hate it when kids die, even in books. I forgot how far Wolfie fell after Lewis Moon ran away (though I still picture him in my head as looking like Leo from That 70s Show, which I remember doing the first time). And with 110 pages to go, I can't remember how it ends. It's like reading it for the first time. Though somehow I don't think they're all going to wind up friends at the end.

I need to get to the end so I can get back to writing, which is why I started back in on At Play in the first place. I needed a semi-controversial--but not cliche--novel for the book club within my story. When I hit the book shelf I was set back by how little I remembered of any of the books that seemed to fit the bill. Even The Sun Also Rises, which I've probably read 4 times, starting in American Lit back in college, had a lot of holes for me. Then again, I'm not sure how well I remember the books I've written myself. After being so completely immersed in them throughout the writing and editing process, I have to set them aside once the next one begins. It's not often I have the time to pick them back up. At least I still remember the endings.

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