I’ve become careful about what “games” I play on Facebook. This quiz will tell you how old you are; another your level of education or favorite food. Then there are posting competitions. The craziest was the “ice bucket challenge” a few years ago. More recently was the movie challenge, post a photograph from so many days that influenced your life. No commentary. I did respond however to posting seven days of favorite books. It was an interesting exercise.
Day one I posted Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. For many years a copy of one or other Sherlock book would be on my night stand. Evening after evening I’d read a short story or chapter in a novel. I thought I was in London, in 221 B Baker Street with all the atmosphere Doyle created. I enjoyed the Holmes Watson relationship. And I reveled in the chase, guided by the science of deduction, observation, details, facts before theories. In my bedroom closet is a collection of Holmesian related books and magazines. A bit of an obsession.
Day, book two. “Beautiful Swimmers: waterman, crabs and the Chesapeake Bay,” by William Warner. I clearly remember finding this book on a rack in John Wanamaker’s. The cover looked so interesting; maybe you could judge a book by . . . I’d never been to the Chesapeake and rarely if ever had blue crabs. But I was captivated. Specifically I wanted to try soft shell crabs. At Holy Ghost Prep I asked one of the Giordano boys (Ninth Street Italian market), “Can you get me soft shells.?” They weren’t in season. My first taste was in Cape May, visiting Jerry and Kate Alonzo. It was a stand or food truck, Jerry and I bought soft shell sandwiches. They’ve been a favorite ever since. This year on a week trip to the Eastern Shore, I had soft shells three times. The best actually were several weeks later in Cape May. Some books don’t let go.
Book three was “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau. I think I discovered it while attending Boston College, not far from his Concord home. I was drawn to the economy of words and economy of life. Living away from it all, listening to the wild, the trees, growing beans, reflecting and writing. Henry was my type of guy. Amazing but I never visited Walden Pond until several years ago when we stayed in Concord for several days. We made the pilgrimage to the reconstructed cottage, statue and the original site.
Book four. “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway. I discovered modern American literature in a summer course I took at Council Rock after my sophomore year. I was searching for identity and signed up as Paul Profy (Paul is a middle name), an alter ego. There was Vince and there was Paul. When the instructor called out my name I didn’t respond, a girl next to me said, “Is that you.” I responded “Oh, yes.” Rainy and I would date for the rest of High School. But more significantly was my exposure to Hemingway. Later I was an English major at BC — how strange that meant English Literature major, British and American. For my first paper, I read Hemingway. All of Hemingway, short stories, novels, poems. I read every piece of criticism in the BC library and visited other university libraries. I even read doctoral dissertations. I recall one, “The insect symbolism in the Nick Adams stories.” Give me a break, I thought. What can I write about. My instructor, John McCarthy, suggested, why not compare Nick Adams (young man in many short stories) and Huckleberry Finn. I did. A year later a Hemingway critic, Carlos Baker, published a book with the comparison. Did McCarthy know? Of all the Hemingway canon, I chose “The Sun” with its lost generation, expatriates, hanging out in Paris and Spain, a world of drinking, bull fights, writers, artists and lovers. It could have been other Hemingway; I liked them all.
Day five I turned to children’s books. And there are many. “Nobody’s Boy,” by Hector Malot was a gift from Aunt Lucy. My father read it over and over when I was quite young. I loved the story of the orphan who eventually found his mother. But with a recent re-read, it didn’t hold up. Another early favorite was “Uncle Wiggley,” by Howard Garis. A collection of short stories about Mr. Longears, involving some danger escaped, help from Nurse Jane, and an ending that promised the next story. For the FB posts I chose two, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams. I read it to Jenny, night after night. Her teddy Durgin (Boston born) talked to her just like the the rabbit that was real when loved. And I included A.A. Milne’s “Winne the Pooh.” Such a delight; characters, adventures, serendipity, messages. I could read it again and again.
Book Six. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain. Hemingway said, “All American literature come s from Huckleberry Finn.” I read it as a kid, a college student and as an adult. It is certainly all American, characters and themes. Huck rebels against civilization, convention, American hypocrisy. I get so annoyed when it is banned for racial language.
Concluding this exercise wasn’t easy. For my final book, number seven, I chose “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.” My love for local history, a memoir and an amazing character that takes center stage. Franklin in well Franklin. They broke the mold. Who can forget his arrival in Philadelphia, two rolls under his arms, encountering his future wife. Or his twelve step program for overcoming vices. Great autobiography.
This is one FB game I enjoyed. Interesting choosing books. I should re-read all of them.