Friday, May 8, 2015
The first book
Here I am reading the first book.
Don't we all have a first book? The first book, made of meat and bone, we ever read?
I have not read this book in a long time.
When I was 15 my mother brought home from the library some books by Steinbeck. "You might like this." She said. This makes my mother sound like a good mother. She wasn't. But there, in that moment, in that act, she was. If only we could have multiplied that.
Alas that one times one is one.
I had read books before Tortilla Flat. A couple years earlier I had read The Lord of the Rings. But to my 13 year old mind that wasn't reading. It was a wonder unto itself. Some things are like that. Some things are so great they are the entirety of their own category. Later, perhaps, one can understand them with some perspective, but really, they don't have much to do with anything else. Maple syrup, the paintings of Caravaggio, Blood on the Tracks, Lionel Messi.
Tortilla Flat, briefly, is about young men and the love of cheap wine and a few other things. It is almost a fable. In case you've forgotten. Or never been there. Because the book is a place.
Tortilla Flat is not on its own in greatness like maple syrup, the paintings of Caravaggio, Blood on the Tracks, and Lionel Messi, despite its wonders, but it was the beginning of literature for me. I read through something close to all of Steinbeck's books shortly thereafter. I have not read any of his books for decades except that maybe I reread Grapes of Wrath somewhere in there, and I live Of Mice and Men. What can I tell you about Tortilla Flat? My mind is furiously more full of things than it was 35 years ago. But it is a pleasure to see it invaded again, suffused and hypnotized by a whole and other place.
How about a quote from the book. Maybe it can be about the mother who brought me the book, or about libraries, or about Tortilla Flat itself, your choice:
It is astounding to find that the belly of every black and evil thing is as white as snow. And it is saddening to discover how the concealed parts of angels are leprous.
And here is the thing: I don't care whether I agree or not. I have visited another world.