Saturday, September 25, 2010

the trunk

Some people collect stamps, others collect coins, some take walks looking for birds. I like to read. There are probably many philatelists and numismatists, and birdwatchers who also like to read, but the point is that we all have different hobbies. I have a buddy with whom I regularly have breakfast. He often asks me when I have time to read. I tell him that when you like to do something you tend to make time for it.

For me reading helps me think. Actually read a book in the late 70s which had that as a line in a conversation and it has stuck in my head. The book was called The Last Convertible, and when I read that sentence, I said--"that's me." Books give me ideas for me to consider, accept, or discard--as if they are fuel for my internal conversations. I would likely converse internally with or without books, but the discourse because I read is--I think--more informed.

There are authors whom I read because they have earned a reputation with me. Anything by Anne Tyler for example I typically snort. And some of her lesser known books--A Patchwork Planet for example--has hung around my head for a long time, as has A Ladder of Years and the Accidental Tourist. Not sure I always heed the wisdom of the authors, but the thoughts make appearances in my consciousness long after I've finished the book.

Richard Russo is another author whom I read. The Risk Pool and Bridge of Sighs are special. I was in the library a couple of weeks back returning some cds and saw a book of his on the shelf that I'd heard about but not read. It's called That Old Cape Magic. So, I took it out and finished it recently.

If you think you might want to read That Old Cape Magic, I'd stop here. I won't be giving the whole story away, but if you are like me, and don't want to know anything about a book before you read it, you won't want to read what I write below. (Even though what I will write is far less than some incomprehensibly insensitive reviewers who damn near give away the whole story in their reviews when an objective is not to do just that).

The Old Cape Magic is about a college professor who, when he was a kid, travelled with his college professor parents to Cape Cod for weeks in the summer. He returns there in the beginning of the book, now with his marriage to Joy on shaky ground, and is there in part to discard the ashes of his father, sitting in his trunk, who wished to be scattered on the Cape. During the course of the book the son winds up with both the ashes of his mother and father in his trunk. Yet, for various reasons he can't seem to get them out and scatter them. Several almost comical episodes preclude his attempts, and it seems as if only when he can get the ashes out of his trunk will he be able to engage his wife (Joy) again.

It's a little heavy on the symbolism, trying to find Joy and all. And it's not one of Russo's better books, but still it is hanging around my head. Fortunately, I am blessed with two healthy parents who provided and provide a remarkably sturdy ethical foundation for my life. But if we extend the metaphor some, how many of us are hauling around ashes in our trunks that we either don't want to address or just seem unable to--and it is that which precludes our ability to engage Joy.

Sometimes despite all efforts Joy is elusive. But sometimes it is only an illusion that Joy is elusive and that what prohibits engaging Joy is that we can't seem to get into the trunk, learn from the ashes therein, and free ourselves by scattering them.

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