Even when you are composing something taking place in the immediate now, you are still, to a significant degree, writing about something that happened in the past, perhaps in the distant past, but now catching up with you.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Standing in the library, before the librarian, looking at the book she has a moment earlier, handed you, saying, "Here then, try this," you were not looking for a glimpse of the future as it pertained to you, had no idea you would, a few years later, be at a university with a declared major, a fair-to-middlin English Department. Because you'd not read nearly enough to suit yourself in the first place, you were in the library, asking the librarian pointed questions about your growing disillusion with the way so-called boys' adventure stories were panning out.
You had no idea your favorite writer would have issues with the author of the book the librarian was extending to you, but you did have an idea how many adults had a short patience when it came to offering things to teenagers.
You were definitely in your teens and wanted out. You were in middle school and wanted out. You were bordering on boredom with the kinds of adventure books that offered some transportation away from the kinds of boredom you were experiencing.
"Here, take this. From what you tell me, this should help." This, from the librarian, reminded you what the ER doctor said after you were taken there, having speared your foot with a pitchfork during agriculture class, "This," the doctor said, administering an anti-tetanus shot, "will last you for some time and keep you from frothing at the mouth."
A week later, one of the better things that happened to you while you were in middle school, happened; a teacher you quite liked saw the book given you by the librarian. She wanted to know if you'd read it yet." You liked her enough to be honest. "No," you said. "It's English and it's history." "Guy like you," the teacher said, "who gets all those N's (for needs to improve) on his report card shouldn't have any trouble with this. Next Monday, you'll do a book report on it. Okay?"
Because you liked her, you said okay. You were now obligated to read the book, which begins with a bunch of Norman knights, back in England after the crusades, asking for and being granted the hospitality of Sir Cedric, a Saxon, with ties back to the old Saxon kings of England.
There is mischief afoot when we learn that nearby, a moneylender, Isaac of York, has taken lodgings. One of the Norman knights has a plan to capture Isaac and hold him for ransom. All that going on in a few pages. You were aware of some of the dynamics, and given the title of the novel, you began to suspect that the unnamed pilgrim who guides the Norman knights to Sir Cedric's estate, might well be the son Sir Cedric has disinherited because of his devoted following of Richard II, a Norman. Oh, boy, fourteen-year-old you is off and running.
By the time you have finished your first reading of Ivanhoe, you have met one of the characters who will become a rival for your favorite literary villain, you'll have begun to get a notion of English history, and in a way as yet too subtle for you to unravel for another few years, find your own voice for humor.
As you note when you give your review, this novel is filled with layers of interest, all of which impact directly on the outcome. The one thing that bugs you is that the protagonist, Sir Wilfrid, goes riding off into the sunset with Rowena, his father's ward, and also a descendant of the Saxons. You wanted him to do something you'd later think lay in the narrative drive of Jane Austen. You wanted him to connect with Rebecca, the daughter of Isaac of York. What a lovely match that would have been.
All the time you were absorbing and being transported by Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, the notion of trying your hand at journalism, with the occasional dip into a novel or short story, was beginning to chase you down the halls and, more important, into the libraries. This is not saying Ivanhoe was a direct influence, but it did, even back then, take you to another level of reading, where there were significant levels of plot and theme to keep track of.
When you returned Ivanhoe to the library, the librarian asked you what you thought. Your book review of it fresh in your mind, you spoke at some length. "I'm wondering," the librarian said.
"Well," she said. "Well," you said. She left you for a few moments, her soft heel clicks suggesting she'd traveled to the fiction section.
"Here," she said. "Maybe a good fit for you. We'll see."
Posted by Shelly Lowenkopf at 10:47 PM