Savannah Morning News column
September 8, 2014
The best idea I heard all week: A button that reads, “I don’t remember names.”
Just the other day, after a summer of patience thinking any minute it will kick in, maybe the middle of the night, during a movie or in conversation with someone, I finally caught it, the name of a delicate, airy, gentle plant I haven’t had for years but that I nabbed at the spring plant swap, a plant that – just to rub it in – I love as much as any, one that has been blooming all summer, a real bee-magnet, she is.
I don’t remember how it happened but just as I was giving up, lowering my shoulders, acknowledging I may never, ever find the name of that darned plant and I better just get used to it, the name appeared: gaura. Spelled but not pronounced like Laura.
But will I remember this?
The other day I was halfway to Vernon View, where I was picking up a boat to visit Sandy West on Ossabaw Island when I remembered I forgot to bring my dog. I had her leash. I had her food. I had every intention of bringing her. She loves Ossabaw and Sandy loves her. I just didn’t have her in the car.
There’s just so much to keep track of.
Lately, if I don’t have a good book at hand I’ve been perusing my shelves and rereading titles that for some reason or another I have kept around and may, well, have forgotten. Some, like Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American,” make the grade and are so good and so packed with suspense and good writing and twists and turns of motive and suspense and complexity of character I don’t even remember the ending. All the better. The plot is important, yes, but so is the writing, the unfolding, the telling.
The same with Donna Tart’s “The Secret History,” something I had no trouble reading again even though, like “The Goldfinch,” it could have had less words and I wouldn’t have minded at all.
I have reread Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” three times and been held in suspense each time. What a brilliant concept, compressing the drama and wrinkles of life into one day. I expect I will also reread Derek B. Miller’s “Norwegian by Night,” a gift from someone who lives outside the country and has had her mind opened to new books, new authors. Seriously, I am thinking when she sent it to me, I have so many books to read and you want me to read this first-time novelist I’ve never heard of? Correct. This was a brainy and quick read with a story takes place in Norway. How many books have you read set in Norway?
How many books have you read by an Ojibway First Nation writer? Quick: Name three Canadian writers. I nominate Richard Wagamese. This man is a storyteller. I’m already chomping at the bit to read something else by him and then to reread his “Ragged Company,” a compelling tale about four chronically homeless people who redefine the meaning of “home.” This book gave me a different way to look at a population I see every day. That’s what good books do. Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” about life, death and hope in Mumbai undercity, does the same thing; it takes you somewhere else.
Now for the books I’ve tried to reread and could not recommend. Take John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (no, you take it, Henny Youngman might have said in an old sexist joke about his wife). Stilted. Dated. Slow. The same with “Tortilla Flat.” Not so, Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” That still resonates.
But Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”? Really?
I remember listening to an unabridged copy on a long drive home from Arkansas once when we still slipped cassette tapes into the console of our car. By the time I reached Savannah I had three tapes to go out of the original 14. Never did listen to them. That says something.
I just hope I remember when I see the book at a yard sale.