Friday, June 27, 2003

We spent the first few days in Chicago staying with my family in the north suburbs. My mother has finally stopped asking me "Do you feel like you never left?" every time I visit home, as she has for the past decade. Perhaps this is merely a form of gloating, now that I'm moving back to the general vicinity of the nest.

Sleeping in my childhood bedroom is a creepily comforting experience, more so now that my mother has repainted the room and taken down all of my embarrassing high-school posters, which tracked my tastes from the pedestrian (the Beatles, U2) to the slightly hipper (R.E.M., Pet Shop Boys) to the pretentious (Andy Warhol) and just plain dumb (a totally inexplicable poster of Eddie Murphy's Coming to America and a totally fabulous poster of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in which Keanu Reeves looks like Mary Lou Retton in a black wig).

A further geological record is apparent on my bookshelves. For years my primary source of books was the annual Brandeis Book Sale, which pitched its circus tent for a week in the parking lot of a mall near my house each summer. On the last weekend of the sale you could do something like fill a bag for $3; in the waning hours sometimes they'd let you wheel away a whole shopping cart for that price. Frantic shopping-spree grabbing was encouraged.

Looking at the books I collected then, I'm amazed at how haphazard my buying habits were. My behavior was a bit like my behavior in my even younger days in collecting baseball cards. I knew absolutely nothing about baseball (for some reason Carlton Fisk, then winding down his career with the White Sox, was the only player I'd heard of), but the names of certain players seemed to tickle an associational nerve somewhere, and I'd scramble to get as many of those players' cards as I could (I had probably a dozen Garry Templeton cards, probably just because his name sounded like a baseball player's should, and traded away what I now know were much more valuable cards for them).

I obviously engaged in the same behavior with literature, judging from my collections of the complete novels of Robert Penn Warren and Thomas Wolfe, all still unread. I grabbed fat novels by authors with Russian names even though I couldn't remember which ones you were supposed to have read, and took almost any poetry I could find, which meant my haul ranged from George Starbuck to Louis Simpson to Rod McKuen.

There's one tall bookshelf in which the childhood books are at the top, most inaccessible, having been displaced by the advance of more sophisticated fare. At the upper left is my set of C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles, well-read but still intact in its box; at the bottom right is Kathy Acker.

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