A Memory of Reading

A recent piece in the British press described a conversation among writers about their idea of the perfect evening. I think it was Christopher Hitchens who said that his involved being alone in a warm room, in a comfortable chair, with a new book by the (very) late P.G. Wodehouse.

That probably wasn’t what the questioner had in mind. The obvious answers for most men would involve a great meal and some company, whether of good friends or a beautiful woman or two.

Maybe that’s why the answer stands out for me. It’s not one I would not have thought to make. And yet some of my happiest memories involve reading alone.

One such came up on Wednesday’s warm evening, as I sat with my girlfriend Amy Farranto and our friend Win Clevenger on the rooftop of Bar 13 after the lovely book party Nomi Prins hosted for Anthony Arnove’s “Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal”. Win mentioned the Rod Stewart song “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, and my neurons immediately took me back to a scene that probably took place on December 31st, 1979.

I was sitting on the green couch in our house on 1017 Highland Park Road in Schenectady, New York. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” was playing on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year. Following it closely was Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” I was eleven and a half years old.

My mom and dad were getting dressed up to go out. My dad smelled of cologne, my mom of perfume. When I told her how pretty she looked, she seemed embarrassed, but pleased. A babysitter would be coming soon to watch us; we weren’t old enough to join the adults for their fun.
I was reading a science-fiction story called “Apple,” part of an anthology I had gotten from the library called “Zoo 2000.” The story was set in the future, after an atomic war had wiped out millions and caused a number of strange mutations. In this particular town, radiation had made an apple grow until it loomed over the town like a mountain. The men of the town made their living by mining its flesh. The story’s protagonist, an exterminator, had just arrived at the town’s request. He had been called in because a giant moth was killing the miners – wrapping them in a gauzy web. The atmosphere of the story was fantastic, as he walked through the appley tunnels and approached the rotting area where the moth made her home.

Either song – the “Sexy” song or the Heart of Glass – can take me right back into that story. Their cool detachment and their synthesizers lend them a science-fiction feel.

I’m sure none of the artists involved in those songs could imagine an 11-year-old boy in upstate New York associating their songs with a story about an enormous apple and a murderous moth. Similarly, the author of that story could not have imagined it being called to mind more than 20 years later – well after the year 2000 – by the mention of a song by Rod Stewart.

But that’s how their works live in my brain.

I’d love to hear your own happy, or just intense, reading memories. Send them to bilbo68 (at) earthlink.net .

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