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February 20, 2017


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I still have my first copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I picked it out in the fifth or sixth grade, after a boy in my class did an oral book report on it, and confused the hell out of everybody including the teacher, but to me it sounded amazing and intriguing, especially the way the boy kept snickering and saying things like "...And then there's this part where a whale materializies way up in the sky..."

The boy who gave the report was a troubled boy. Already in fifth or sixth grade he had gotten into scrapes with the law. He had drug problems and friends who did not bring out the best in him. His grades were terrible. He was also wicked smart, and had a mean streak, and he nearly destroyed our eighth grade French teacher's composure -- you could watch her going slowly insane every time he raised his hand. He asked crazy questions in class, that if you thought about them for a minute, were stupid, but if you thought about them for more than a minute, were good questions. I had heard that his parents were rich and that he had only sisters all much older than him. I was a little afraid of him. I was a little fascinated by him. And when I was in a bookstore and I recognized the grinning round green eyeless monster on the cover of the book, the book from the boy's oral report, I picked it up. And I read the book and became instantly addicted and read the other two books, and waited and waited for So Long and Thanks For All the Fish to come out, and I still remember shrieking when I saw a new book called "Mostly Harmless" on the shelf. The boy changed schools when it was time to go to high school. We heard that it was his own decision, to go to a different private school and have new friends. I did not see him again.

Years after that fifth-grade book report I met another boy in the college dining hall who snickered while quoting from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We went for a walk all over campus, quoting the book to each other. I had all the paperbacks, very dog-eared from reading them every time my brain was too tired to engage with a text for the first time. His copy of the book was bound in a single volume along with the first two sequels and a short story called "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe." Now my copy and the second boy's copy are together on a shelf in our bedroom.

I remember well when my mother, who still lived in my hometown then, mentioned to me on the phone that she had read of the first boy's -- he would have been in his late twenties, like me -- sudden death. No cause was given in the newspaper notice. I remembered vaguely that he was supposed to have had some kind of a heart problem. I also wondered if maybe he had never quite gotten away from the things that made him run in the first place.

I wept for that other boy. I can't pay him back. I try to. There is a small handful of souls whose rest I pray for by name at every Mass I attend. He is one of them and I will pray for him by name at every Mass I attend until the day I can't do it anymore.

I'm sitting on the couch reading this on my tablet, and wondering whether it would help to go to my computer and enlarge the picture so I can read the titles on your shelves, or whether it would be too pixelated to help...

I have saved all of my only som's books, and look at them all the time. I long for the day I can read them to my future nieces or nephews, and even more...I think of how I will read them to my future grandchildren. This is odd to write, at 41, but I think of it all the time.

My husband is not a reader, and I frequently have to defend the keeping (and buying) of books. I wish he understood more...but he didn't grow up a reader, nor was ever read to, and so has no attachment to books.

But gosh, books are my everything. There was an article in The NY Times about Margaret Wise Brown the other day...and I found I could recite every word, twenty years later...

I have so many book memories....I love sharing them so much...

I could tell so many stories from the various books on my shelves, but after your story, Jamie, and bearing's, there's one that seems to want telling. I picked up a book of poetry on a whim, I'm not even sure where, library book sale, table at the farmer's market, used bookstore? It was by a local Vermont poet who is also a woodcarver. Years and years later I was blogging a poem a day to get through the January doldrums and browsing all the poetry books on the poetry shelf (which is right next to my favorite chair so I can sit there and grab books off and leaf through them, which is how I read poetry mostly.) Anyway, I found a poem in his book and I published it on my blog. And sometime later, almost a year later, he left a comment! He was so very pleased that I'd enjoyed his poem. And sometime later later, someone else, a friend of his, left a comment telling me the name of his most recent book, and giving me a bit more information about him. Then later still the friend came back and left another comment. He'd died, but he'd been really flattered I'd taken an interest in his work. So I posted an obit for him on my blog and over time various friends of his have found it and left comments and here I am hosting a sort of virtual wall for him. The community of letters.

I almost feel a need to print it all out and paste it in the book as a sort of footnote for future readers to follow.



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