Thursday, November 6, 2014

Friends

In the sense avid readers of novels will be certain to recognize, novels become friends in much the same way we encounter friendships in our life. 

There are childhood friends, persons we have attended grammar school and junior high school with.  Many of the early novels we read in our pre-teen year became our friends. You still recall Mary Austin's The Land of Little Rain, and Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain,each of which has remained in print going on seventy years.

 In many cases, we outgrow both the books and the friends, or some recognizable force separates us.  There are the books classified as Middle-grade and Beyond Middle-Grade.  You can remember titles and person's names from each category.

But you haven't seen either, the novels or the friends, although you do think of them.  You can name grammar school friends and novels you read before entering your teen years.  You can remember high school friends, many of whom moved along to college as you did.  Acquiring groups of friends and reading an increasing variety of novels during those years filled you with the first implication that you would lose track of the friends before you lost track of characters,

What ever happened to Julian White, or Hanna Fenichel or Jerry Shamrock, or Pauline Levine or Gabe Jellen?  They went where interesting persons go, to interesting, challenging lives.  You believe Julian became a piano teacher, that Hanna became, as did her father, a psychiatrist, that Jerry became an architect,  that Pauline became first Paula, then an attorney, that Gabe became a musician.  You even know what happened to Jerry Doernberg, who found his way to Santa Barbara not long after you did.

What about Julian Sorrel, or Pirrip, or Rebecca Sharp?  What about Albion Moonlight, Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, Frank Chambers, Tom Joad, Carol Kennicott, Milly Theale, Rose of Sharon Joad, Juliette Capulet, and whatsisname, Ishmael?  

Ah, they stayed closer to hand to the point where you know more than a few log-line sentences about them, have, in fact, more significant opinions about them, even though you went through high school with the others and had a near debilitating crush on Pauline.  Good as it was to have those feelings about her, you were beginning to realize how you were rooting for Wilfrid of Ivanhoe to make off with Rebecca rather than Rowena.

All of this is to say that characters remained real, even grew in stature and implication because you stayed in touch, grew in some ways because of them.  And yes, when, as luck would have it, you got the chance to see how Pauline/Paula had grown, you were better able to articulate the things about her that had attracted you to her back then. 

True enough, you were making new friends, work friends, writing friends, publishing friends But the characters who you kept in close touch with became confidantes as well as role models, some because you wished to be more like them, others because you had no wish to make the mistakes they made.  You were setting off on the rock path toward Coming of Age, but in so doing, you wanted to make your own successes and your own failures

A student produced a note pad this week attesting to the fact that within a period of an hour and ten minutes, you mentioned and in some way, however brief, discussed over forty novels.  The exact number was not certain because, the student said, "toward the end, you were on a roll."

Much of this energy of recall is no surprise to you.  If left unchecked, you are apt to start off on that sort of roll.  But in recent weeks, you are the more aware of these literary friends, these novel friends for the purpose of choosing one hundred of the ones remaining with you as tangible presences over the years.  They are the friends with whom you've kept in touch, checking in, wondering how things are going, in effect asking them, "Are we okay?"

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