Credit: Kristen Day
Sometimes when I talk on the phone with my mom about books that I’m reading, if it sounds like something she would like she says, “Bring it down the next time you come down.” It can be a chore finding a place to pack them in my luggage, but by the same token, she has given me books to bring back to Albany and I sometimes steal books from her library that I want to read. It’s an odd book exchange, but somehow it works.
Labor Day weekend I brought down to New Jersey three books she asked me to bring. She requested five but I could only fit three in my backpack: Sula by Toni Morrison, The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty and The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin, which was made into a film in the 90’s with Miranda Richardson and Alfred Molina. All three books I loved and hoped mom would too.
When I got to my mom’s place, she actually had two books waiting for me. One was My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. I had read her most famous book, Olive Kitterage, and liked it even though sometimes I didn’t care for Olive personally. The other was That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo, who grew up in nearby Gloversville, NY. I read three of his books including Mohawk, which is a semi-autobiographical novel about Gloversville, the amazing Empire Falls and Elsewhere: a Memoir about his mom.
I can hear some of you ask ” What about the books you stole from your mom?” Patience, Grasshopper! I finished a book of four plays by Henrik Ibsen while at my mom’s and I was looking for something else to read for my trip back to Albany. It’s a long bus ride back. I chose Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price. Price was a Southern gay author. This novel was about a girl growing up in the late 30’s into WW2. I gather the book is based on his mother’s life. The book was easy to read but I didn’t care for the main character Kate. Every time she had a problem, she runs away. I liked that the book read pretty fast and there were a couple of gay characters like Kate’s Uncle Fob and cousin Walter but overall I didn’t love it.
The other book I stole, which I haven’t read yet is Portrait in Brownstone by Louis Auchincloss. Auchincloss is a forgotten author, mainly because he wrote about rich, white people living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I used to have several of his books, but I never got around to reading them. Just read this first line from the book, “I had even reached the point of wondering if Geraldine Brevoort’s suicide, so long dreaded, might not prove in the event to be a relief, but like everything else about Geraldine, when it came, it came with a nasty twist.” That is a well-crafted sentence that makes you want to know what happened.
Whenever I look at my mom’s one bookcase, which is in the room I sleep in when I visit, I see a number of books that I owned but never read like Shiloh and Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason, Utrillo’s Mother by Sarah Baylis, The Annunciation by Ellen Gilchrist and Tending to Virginia by Jill Mc Corkle, all I want to read at some point. I also see books that I have read that wound up with my mom. I’m not sure if all of them she demanded, but she has my copies of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugendies, Mrs. Dalloway from Virginia Woolf, Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut Jr, The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes, and Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. I also notice the books I gave her for her birthday that I don’t think she’s read like Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters, Prague by Arthur Phillips, Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. It irks me because I’d like to read them myself.
I am happy to say that my mom read The Optimist’s Daughter and is in the middle of reading Sula. I don’t think she liked the Welty book as much as I did but we did have a great conversation on the phone about it. Later she said, “I think you read more into books than I do.” That’s the best compliment a mother can give her bookish son.