It’s been about nine months since we added our own Little Free Library to the mosquito fleet of literary largesse that speckles the neighborhood. I was particularly proud of the solar-powered lighting system that would make late-night book browsing an option for the cultured dog-walker out for an evening perambulatory peruse, and also of the little surrealist diorama I nestled amongst the books (pictured at right.)
Part of the fun has been curating the collection: we have boxes of books we’ve enjoyed over the years that we trickle out onto the shelves, but we also make sure that there’s room for additions from the neighborhood. When too many of a particular type of book show up at once (novels by Michael Connelly, Frederick Forsyth, and Lee Child seem to enjoy a popularity amongst those dropping books off), I’ll redistribute the wealth to other, less blessed Little Free Libraries. Rarely, I’ll simply remove and recycle books that have become long in the tooth waiting for adoption, and seem to have little hope of finding a new home (travel guides that are over 20 years old have been gently retired in this way, for example.)
One book, though, I should have recycled a long time ago. When we stocked our LFF’s with its inaugural collection, I included an old paperback copy of Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp: Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories. The cover is gone, the pages are yellowed, but it is still the same beautifully told story that, according to the Atlantic Monthly, “charms you into sharing the author’s feeling that there is a special poetry – a spontaneity and wonder and delight – in lives untarnished by conformity and common sense.”
It’s a semi-autobiographical work, built from Capote’s Alabama childhood memories of a tree house in an old walnut tree, accessible only by antique spiral staircase. I guess the writing, with lines like “subtly as the gold watch spun its sound of time, the afternoon curved toward twilight”, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and even one of the original editors complained that once the characters were up in the tree house, Capote “didn’t know what to do with them.” Still, there’s an artfulness to the prose and the dialogue and speech can be enjoyed on their own merits.
I feel oddly oddly slighted that nobody has taken this dear book home, and so I’m writing this in the hopes of enticing you to come visit and see if you like it. The address is 4065 4th Ave NE, just across from the John Stanford School.[Fun fact: Capote spent time in the real-life version of this tree house with his childhood friend, Harper Lee, who later placed him in her book, To Kill A Mockingbird, in the guise of the character Dill Harris.]
While I’m on the topic of good books ignored, I should also mention that I put Robertson Davies Fifth Business out there a week or so ago, and even wrote a little post on the Wallingford / Fremont Facebook page with the backstory on how I came to read it. A number of commenters chimed in on how it was one of their favorite books of all time, and Modern Library’s “reader’s list” ranks it #40 on the “100 best novels of the 2oth century” list, but there it sits still.
So let me say: it’s a good book. The writing isn’t flowery like Capote’s, but it shares the complex sentence structure that was popular in mid-century novels. This only serves to slow you down, and ensures you savor each line. The story itself is a slow build, but engaging. I went from enjoying it in a languid, easy way in the beginning, to slipping away from work to read it ravenously after I had crossed the midpoint.
Finally, I’m going to set out another book I’ve enjoyed immensely, as a thank you for reading this far. I picked Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders off a shelf based entirely on the cover quote from NPR, which said “Superbly engaging, balancing delightful wackiness with genuine tenderness…reminiscent of Michael Chabon or Jonathan Lethem.” I’d say there’s a touch of Jeffrey Eugenides, too, but maybe that’s just because of the common Greek family theme.
In any case, “reminiscent of Michael Chabon” is reason enough for me, maybe it is for you, too.
If you’re going to read Spoonbenders, you should read it soon, too, as I understand Paramount TV has optioned the rights, and you’ll want to be sure to finish it in time to airily declare “oh, are they making that a show? I read the book.