Monkeys in a Barrel™. That’s what comes to mind: Monkeys in a Barrel™, that toy made of plastic monkeys you link together, curling arm with curling arm (or is it a tail?), to make one long chain of monkeys. My plan for this blog has been to take a book from my shelves, explore its appeal and/or meaning for my facilitator, LW, and then link it up by theme or mood or happenstance to another of our books, forming a chain that would, in some Borgesian way, trace out her life. A kind of bio-bibliography. Or a biblio-biography. Or something.
And so far, so good. But now I’m thinking I could help the process by searching my own history and memories as LW’s library. At any rate, it should all hook up, right?
So where to begin? You may remember I mentioned a farm where we spent our Little Golden Book days. It was a small country place down a dirt lane, surrounded by woods and field, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I had one main book case then, small, standing just inside the door of her sisters’ bedroom. My books were shared by all. I can also recall a standing rack with curved sides that held books from the Landmark series of biographies for children. I have stories to tell about my books from those days, stories about the Little Golden Books, the old primers, the set of World Book encyclopedia, and other early volumes.
But before all those, in the beginning . . . was a voice, a woman’s voice–intimate, timbrous—reciting words from a large book. And then came . . . images—sea, sky, stars . . . the moon, the moon, the moon . . . a ship like a shoe, and an owl and a pussycat and honey and money, and treetops and lollipop trees, trundle beds and rabbit skins; a raggedy man, little orphant Annie, and goblins that will git you if you don’t – watch – out.
And more: A po’ little lamb, a calico cat; a cow and a dish and a spoon, a runcible spoon, and something called quince. Three little pigs, three little bears, a gingerbread boy . . . and a wolf.
Words upon words, images upon images, stories upon stories.
In short, a library, a whole library packed into one fat book, a book, I would learn, that was an anthology of children’s literature left over from The Mother’s undergraduate years at the local teacher’s college back in the Olden Days. The book had lost its jacket, if it ever had one, and its binding was already frayed and stained. But it was much loved by LW and her two older sisters, and was read by each of them in turn, sometimes one to the other, when they were old enough to read the small print for themselves.
Years later, now a young mother herself, LW hoped to find a copy of this book to read aloud to her child. As with so many of the books from her early childhood, she did not know the book’s title or author. She did, however, find two possible candidates while browsing in the Columbia University Teachers College Bookstore.
She bought them, first one, later the other, purchases which took big bites from a meager budget.
In school-girlish handwriting still visible after forty-odd years, she carefully inscribed her family’s name inside the cover of one of the books.
This family, as such, was not long-lived. Within a year LW would be single again and childless and back to using her maiden name. The books remained closed for almost a decade before she opened them again to read aloud to her new baby boy.
I like to think that this book will get handed down to new generations, to be inscribed with other names, names of people who will still like the kind of books you can feel and smell and write on. I would like that. It’s how libraries get born.
[Note: I meant to post this entry earlier this summer but the books described could not be located, and I wanted to include a photo of them. (See my post “Lost!”) I had hoped to use the post as an introduction to some of LW’s childhood books such as the previously-discussed Little John Little. Now that LW has made real progress on the Great Book-Sorting Project, the books have turned up. So on we go, book to book, link to link.]