Shop Thoughts: Snow Days


As I write this, a thin blanket of snow covers the world outside my window.  Yesterday it snowed all day, the type of snow that comes down for hours but never amounts to much.  I’ll take any excuse to claim a day for reading, especially when it falls on a Sunday.

On days like these, I like a book with heft.  Give me a multi-generational saga or an epic war-torn romance, something that will last throughout the day and beyond, hundreds of pages to go before I sleep.

I had two such books going on this particular snowy day.  The first, which I paged through upon waking and again later that night just before bed, was Come Back in September: A Literary Education on West Sixty-Seventh Street, Manhattan by Darryl Pinckney.  Pinckney, a student, apprentice, and friend of Elizabeth Hardwick, the great literary critic and novelist who died in 2007, remembers his formative years as a writer under Hardwick’s tutelage.  Her best friend was Barbarba Epstein, editor and co-founder of The New York Review of Books.  Her ex-husband was Robert Lowell; Susan Sontag makes regular appearances, as do a host of other literary luminaries of the 1970s and 80s.

To be honest, I don’t always know what is going on in this book.  I don’t follow all the references or always know who exactly Pinckney is talking about and why it’s important, but I still enjoy being along for the ride, steeped in another time, a time when people sat down to a late dinner (usually drunk) and pulled books off the shelves around them to read aloud bits of poetry to one another.  

And always, just when I’m really feeling a bit lost, Pinckney will drop a sentence of such stunning beauty that I will be shocked into gratitude.  Something like, “In those days, someone returned in a page or was back in just a paragraph. We called it a long time.”

The other book I read, this one through the middle of the day—was I supposed to be doing something right now?  I kept asking my husband—was Demon Copperhead, the newest novel by Barbara Kingsolver, who pays homage to David Copperfield by Charles Dickens by exploring the effects of poverty on one particularly resilient boy in southern Appalachia in the 1990s.  If you’ve read any Kingsolver at all—and for me, it’s been many, many years since my last—you know she’s a storyteller at heart.  And she never did meet a down-and-out character she didn’t love to pieces.  This was exactly the immersive experience I was looking for.

As a voice-driven novel, I had to follow the sentences closely.  Demon is not particularly studious, except when it comes to superhero stories and art class—and how could he be with a disruptive home life, stints in foster care, and gaps in schooling for forced child labor stints—but he is precocious, due to early exposure to a host of adult issues.  And those adult issues are at the heart of this novel: poverty, addiction, child welfare services, the public school system.  Kingsolver has created a character with heart in order to bring us face to face with some of our country’s most serious shortcomings.

As the effects of climate change become increasingly harder to ignore, it seems inevitable now that snow days in Massachusetts will soon become extinct.  I know some people will not mourn them—certainly there will be no love lost from me either for shoveling or treacherous roads—but my appreciation for the ones we have left only grows.  

The gentle quiet, life on pause for just a moment.  Each one is precious, lovely, dark and deep. 

national register of historic places in floyd county, indiana, samsung gravity, barbarba epstein, charles dickens, darryl pinckney, great literary critic and novelist, new york review, editor and co-founder, susan sontag, barbara kingsolver, massachusetts, robert lowell, the new york review of books, elizabeth hardwick, david copperfield, child welfare services