“When I got home from school I did what I had always done, which was to read, curled up in the window seat in the library or lying flat on my back on the floor with my feet in a chair, in the darkest corner I could find. The house was full of places to read that fitted me like a glove, and I read the same books over and over. Children tend to derive comfort and support from the totally familiar – an umbrella stand, a glass ashtray backed with brightly colored cigar bands, the fire tongs, anything. With the help of these and other commonplace objects – with the help also of the two big elm trees that shaded the house from the heat of the sun, and the trumpet vine by the back door, and the white lilac bush by the dining-room window, and the comfortable wicker porch furniture and the porch swing that contributed its creak…creak…to the sounds of the summer night – I got from one day to the next.”
By William Maxwell
“I’m so sorry to hear that you’re in a book rut. Sometimes it’s good to let our fields go fallow. Walk around, read things other than books. Imagine the book you wish you could read, and tell people about it.”
Elizabeth ends her email with exactly the kind of recommendation that I was looking for: a single title and its author (So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell). I’ve since finished the book but I’m continuously re-reading it, settling in and opening to a random page, as if testing how much I remember. I love reaching the point in a book where no matter which page I flip to, I’m so familiar with the story that I can carry on without a hitch. So Long, See You Tomorrow is a simple story made rich by the details and emotions, much like our own lives. Books often have us dive into the ordinary lives of a cast of characters, only to lead us towards a bombshell that derails everything we’ve come to know and love/hate. In So Long, See You Tomorrow, the bombshell happens on the first page – Clarence kills Lloyd – and we work back and forth through time to answer all related questions. In her message, Elizabeth calls the book “generous and kind and brilliant,” and it doesn’t take long to discover exactly what that means. Maxwell takes great care in contextualizing the characters’ actions and motives, as if exonerating them, as if they have every reason in the world to behave exactly the way that they do. Perhaps we all do.