Monday, April 10, 2017
I've had this book since before I could read it.
My mother is a brilliant reader and actress (which she would deny). She gave a different voice to each character when she read these stories to me, building the tension as the story progressed, working in the subtext, looking deep into the characters. She used dynamics, pacing, emotional beats, so many intuitive gifts I later could label from my theater experience. I caught on quickly in theater; I already knew the territory.
The Dick and Jane books left the house because my mother was disgusted by them. She was fine with Rudyard Kipling and Ray Bradbury, and didn't bat an eyelash when, still in grammar school, I absconded with her college copies of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre ( the editions with the amazing woodcuts), The Arabian Nights, and The Complete Shakespeare. Those were fine. But no Dick and Jane. Those stories were not only sexist, but simplistic and "dumbed down". They would not be in the house.
To my mother, stories did not serve to tell us how to live. They were expression for the sake of the beauty of it, but also vehicles for questions. If I found something scary, she encouraged me to ask myself exactly what I found scary. To look at my fears very closely, with an inquisitive and almost scientific eye. If I found something funny, we laughed at it together and enjoyed it, without reserve. If I found wonder in something, she shared my feeling. My mother has always had a profound and unhesitating sense of wonder.
In the same way I nabbed her books for my own, I stole the practice of reading stories as my own-and fancied that I had come up with the aptitude all by myself. For many years I thought of this obsession as uniquely mine. And then, like every other grandiose and ungrateful child, I began to look back.
Of course I had to inhale words like they were oxygen. Of course I had to write. Of course I had to spend my life telling stories; I even made telling stories on the radio my bread and butter. Looking back, I saw the trail of bread crumbs. And finally saw the point of the story.
This was inevitable.