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October 12, 2009

Readersguide tagged me for this meme about books. Answer the questions, then tag some people – let’s say maybe three, though I’m doing five, to get it going – and when you’ve done it you email beanphoto at and tell him you did it so he can go and collect it. And ask the bloggers you tag to do the same.

1.Most memorable place/experience reading a book?
I know I’ve told this story before here, but it’s the obvious answer to this question for me. I can’t remember when I first read Jane Eyre, but it instantly became one of those books I read over and over again. And if, when I was in high school, anyone asked me what my favorite book was, it was always Jane Eyre. The fall after I graduated, my parents drove me halfway across the country to move me into my first college dorm room. We arrived on campus and carried loads of things from the street up to my room on the second floor overlooking the wide front porch and the elm tree with the swing (the swing was featured in the film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and at one point, you can see the window of my first year room). We spent a quiet picnic lunch with hundreds of other students and parents eating out of cardboard boxes on a campus lawn, and then my parents had to go. I wanted them to stay – my family is very close – but I didn’t know what to do with them when they did. I was so excited to be at college, but I remember feeling so bereft when they left. I kept myself busy with activities the rest of the afternoon, but I was dreading being alone at night to sleep. When I finally went to bed, my pillow felt hard and uncomfortable. I slipped my hand under the pillow and brought out a hardbound slipcovered copy of Jane Eyre, a beautiful and old book. Inside was this note:

Dear Harriet,
On your first night away from home, we thought you might need an old friend to keep you company. We are so proud of you and so excited for you. I’m sure you and Jane will have an excellent year.
Mom and Dad

After I finished crying, I pulled out my flashlight and read under the covers until I fell asleep. It is the most perfect present I have ever received.

2. Most unusual place/experience reading a book?
When I was living in Darien, Connecticut from age 5-8, there was a huge spruce tree across the street from my house, in between Jeni and Isabel’s houses. Jeni and Isabel were a grade ahead of me. On their own, they’d be friends with me. But together, they’d often gang up against me. I learned to quickly retreat with a book and my favorite spot to do that was just below where the electrical lines clipped the top of the spruce tree. I’d climb up and sit on a branch with my back against the trunk. I could see out across the street. I could see Jeni’s front door and Isabel’s side door. But they couldn’t see me. It was perfect.

3. Most dangerous place/experience reading a book?

I’m not sure, but it’s probably walking down a city street reading. It’s a toss up whether the more dangerous place was the south side of Chicago, where alertness was important to prevent getting mugged, or walking down Mass Ave between my office at HAHVAHD and my apartment in Somerville, where I was in regular danger of inadvertently wandering into the street or being run over by a law student on a bike who was late to class. And then there was the time I was strolling home to my Hyde Park, Chicago apartment so engrossed in the Autobiography of Malcom X, that I walked right on past my house, down the street and smack dab into one of the suited, sunglassed bodyguards in front of the headquarters of the Nation of Islam. Oops.

4. Most luxurious place/experience reading a book?
When my brother got married in Washington DC, my parents and I stayed in the Georgetown apartment of friends of my sister-in-law’s family. The friends were in the foreign service and were overseas. The apartment was full of treasures picked up overseas and beautiful artwork. In a corner by a window was a rattan chaise longue. I no longer remember what I was reading that weekend, but I remember spending all of my free time lying on that chaise engrossed in a book and feeling like I’d tumbled into an Edith Wharton novel.

5. Funniest place/experience reading a book? Or, add a reading-place/experience description of your own.
This isn’t really funny, but several of my most memorable reading moments have to do with social aspects of reading. Like when I went to a mall on the day after the last Harry Potter book was released and saw all sorts of people reading it in all sorts of corners. I was carrying mine and we all saluted each other with our books, like some secret society signal.
I also remember watching a carefully groomed elderly man with a cane strike up a conversation with a tattooed and mohawked young man reading Thomas Mann on a city bus and they talked so long and so enthusiastically that the older man missed his stop and the younger man got off with him at the next stop and helped him back where he was going.
But the one I remember best, was one that happened to me when I was 20. The summer between my junior and senior year in college, I was working at a fancy job in my field in Philadelphia and living with my just graduated artist friend who was about to go to Penn for her MFA. We sublet an apartment in west Philly with a male medical student who was interning in the trauma ward at a local hospital. The three of us had radically different work schedules and were rarely all home at once. I spent a lot of the summer wandering around the city alone. One sunny Saturday, I dragged some books to the grassy area in front of Claes Oldenburg’s “Big Button” on the Penn campus. I pulled out my copy of T.S. Eliot’s collected poems and turned to the Four Quartets, which I’d been thinking about setting to music. I was reading and sketching on my manuscript paper for a while and was so involved with what I was doing, that I didn’t realize someone was standing next to me until his shadow fell across my book. I looked up and there was a man in shirt and tie (no jacket) carrying a briefcase and an identical copy of T.S. Eliot’s poems. He turned out to be an architecture professor at Penn and I think he was trying to pick me up, but we had a nice long talk about poetry and music and architecture in the middle of the campus, an unexpected moment of connection in a summer of aloneness.

I’m tagging greeneyedsiren, in hopes to encourage her to post again. I’m also tagging Lemming, the newly rebloggingHugh, and peppypilotgirl, and of course Fairlywell (aka Julia), who had a book-themed wedding a couple of weeks ago. If I didn’t tag you and you’d like to play along, please leave a message in the comments and I’ll add you to my list!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 7:16 pm

    This is fun! I will have to think about my answers, though.

  2. October 13, 2009 2:09 pm

    Thanks for goosing Siren, Lemming and Hugh. They need someone besides me doing it all the time. I have to guess that you and Lemming have already bonded over Jane Eyre, you hopeless romantics.

  3. October 13, 2009 6:32 pm

    I don’t know that you and I ever bonded over “Jane Eyre” – too busy trying to follow all of the musicology around me in those years.

    Have taken the meme and will act upon it… just as soon as the elves get to work on these essays.

  4. October 18, 2009 3:28 am

    Can I play? Himself is off on a three day business trip Tuesday so I am looking for things to help me miss him less!


  5. October 18, 2009 7:11 am

    Definitely, IWOm! Please do! Lemming, I’m not sure that it either came up, but better late than never. Good luck with the essays. Jeanne, so far not much response, but I’lll keep trying! Julia, I look forward to seeing it.

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