Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Wind in the Willows

Recently I read an article about a woman who wished that she could read books the way her daughter does. She talked about immersing herself in a world that seems so real that nothing else matters. I remember those days. I would sit in the hackberry tree in front of our house reading for so long that my father eventually installed a board crossways in the crook of two branches for more comfortable seating. I would hide under the covers with a flashlight reading until my eyes burned. In 6th grade my teacher discovered The Exorcist in my desk drawer and asked if my mother knew I was reading it. Of course I lied and said yes. I read three books a day during the summer when our baby sitter moved across the street from the library.
When I was very young the Bookmobile came. A rolling panel van full of books that came right to your house! Now when I look back I thank the bookmobile lady who took special care to bring books she thought I would like along with books she thought I should read. She introduced me to biographies of Babe Didrikson, the woman who first competed in a men's PGA event in 1938 and was an Olympic medalist, Marie Curie, and Amelia Earhart. Through her I met suffragettes and Misty of Chincoteague and Anne Frank. She gave me a world that I may never have investigated otherwise.
One of the worlds was the River and Toad Hall and the Wild Wood. She gave me Badger and Mole and Toad and Rat, the denizens of that little world where motor cars poop-poop along, the river winds slowly and the creatures that live there become friends and have adventures that could only happen in the imagination. 2008 marked the 100th year of Kenneth Grahame's classic novel. It has been movified, adapted, reillustrated and abridged to death but nothing beats the original. Grahame wrote the novel based on letters he wrote to his son. His language is the greatest pleasure of the book. This passage alone makes me remember why the book held me in thrall so many years ago:

"And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!""By it and with it and on it and in it," said the Rat. "It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing."

What is your book that made you lose yourself? The Wind in the Willows is better than a whole list of resolutions for me for this year. I want to be a good friend like Rat. I want to be spontaneous like Mole and leave off my duties for a while. I want to gallivant about like Toad and not worry about the consequences. I want to sit by the river and just watch it go by. I want to face my fears like walking into the Wild Wood, not knowing what's there but hoping that my imagination is much scarier than the real thing. Pick a book that makes you remember what it was like to only want to be in that world, that you put off finishing because you couldn't bear to say goodbye to the characters. Share it with someone else. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?


Anonymous said...

Hi "Hip and Stingy"! It's one of your book club pals. I have enjoyed reading your blog entries, and am glad that you decided to reminisce about a book that made you lose yourself. Many, many reads have made my mind wander over the years, but the very first book that grabbed my curiousity was "The Mystery of the Great Swamp". I remember it well. I was 9 years old. My previous teachers had tried to get me interested in reading, but to no avail. My third grade teacher gave me a book about a donkey who lived in the Grand Canyon...somehow thinking that it would interest me??? No way, no how. I had to discover reading on my own. A Scholastic book order that my parents placed for me yielded "The Mystery of the Great Swamp". The summer between third and fourth grade found me lounging on my suburban home's creek stone patio, reclining on the green and yellow swirly-patterened vinyl pad on the redwood lounger. I was immersed in the swamp. I felt the damp humidity, heard the swamp critters twittering, tasted the dank air. I was there - in the swamp; and that read was all it took to hook me for life.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog! My childhood favs were Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, and Gone With the Wind. I am a sucker for history and romance combined. Those childhood books stick with us forever.

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