Thursday, March 22, 2018

the last book I ever read (Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison, excerpt four)

from Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison:

Through the passage of time you pull well away and look at the family almost anthropologically. The house becomes a den where seven primates happened to live. There was no television until well after I left home so the family played cards, games like Scrabble, or read, both good literature and bad. My father liked the historical novels of Hervey Allen and Walter Edmonds though I also remember him reading Hamlin Garland, Theodore Dreiser, and Sherwood Anderson. My mother loved Willa Cather but this did not prevent her from stooping to Edna Ferber and Taylor Caldwell, then rising again to John O’Hara. There’s a great deal of nonsense now about how our children can’t read but then how could they in terms of imitative behavior if their parents don’t read and there are no books in the house? If books aren’t treated as beloved objects like the sports page or the television why would a child wish to read? You wonder how disgustingly low-paid teachers must spend their lives trying to overcome parental stupidity, but then in our money culture everything is considered merry and bright if the parents show up for their often dismal jobs on time.

I suspect that nothing is idyllic except in retrospect. (The ugly phrase “nuclear family” shows the paucity of imagination among sociologists.) You are tardily thankful that you grew up in a close and loving family only when it becomes apparent that so many haven’t had the same luck. All of us kissed each parent good night. When I was sixteen and finally admitted to my father I intended to be a writer he promptly went out and bought me a twenty-buck used typewriter rather than giving the usual parental lecture on practicality and the doom and shame in the lives of artists. He wasn’t particularly upset when I quit college for a while after my freshman year because he told me that he knew my heroes Sherwood Anderson and William Faulkner had backed away from college. To tease me he added Hemingway, knowing I didn’t care for this author who seemed to me a kind of woodstove that didn’t give off much heat. He told me about trout fishing with a relative of Hemingway’s who was worried that cousin Ernest was off wasting his life in Europe. That statement made me more curious and sympathetic about Hemingway because I wanted to run off to Europe and waste my life, doubtless ending up in a garret with one of those long-necked Modigliani models as the thought of them tended to give me a hard-on even when I was out hoeing the garden or digging a new garbage pit. When I first lived in New York at nineteen I admit my eye brimmed when I finally saw an original Modigliani in a museum.

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