Re-Read, With Annotation

Stone WarMy younger daughter, 18 years old and a senior in high school awaiting Letters from Colleges, still likes to be read to at bedtime, especially when she’s feeling otherwise stressed out (see: awaiting Letters from Colleges, above).  Last week, when she asked me to read to her, she decided she wanted me to read one of my books.  The one that is dedicated to her and her sister: The Stone War.  She’s had a copy in her room forever, ex officio.  But I never asked her to read it, never expected her to read it, didn’t want to be a stage mother to my own work, because…

So I was flattered.  I still am.  However, I forget how interesting an audience my daughter can be.  Which, when combined with my own feelings of deja-vu and “gee, I could have done better with that sentence”, has made this a slightly surreal reading experience.

First: The Stone War was first published in 1999.  Re-reading something you started writing over twenty years ago is going to be an odd experience, because you’re not the same person you were.  You are, as it were, descended from that person.  In terms of writers’ years, that book is about 60 years old, because my style has changed over the years.

Second: The Stone War is about New York City, land of my birth and my soul’s true home, just before and after a massive disaster where all kinds of different things happen all at once.  The book was published in 1999, as I said.  And we were still living in the city on 9/11.  The two things have nothing to do with each other, except: New York.  Disaster.  My daughter barely remembers 9/11 (she was young enough, and we lived far enough uptown, that her experience of the day and the weeks after was limited to watching the grownups around her behave weirdly).  But she knows about it.  And she quite reasonably is reading the book through the filter of that day.  So several times she stopped me to ask how I felt on 9/11 relative to the book (there is not, honest, much congruence–except at the beginning, when people pour out of the city in something of the same way that people poured out of downtown).  I mention the World Trade Center.  All the things that haven’t come to pass, even more than the things that have, we have had to stop and discuss.  It’s weird, particularly when I’m talking about it with my kid.

Third: This is, as they say in bad book reviews, my most personal book.  It has slivers of my childhood and of my children in it (ow).  It is not autobiographical, but it’s the book where there are a few direct steals from Real Life.  And the kid seems to be unerring in her ability to pick these things out and demand to discuss them.

I write to be read, and if I’m reading the book aloud, I read as a performance.  It’s a different way than a teacher reads–I don’t expect to be stopped to discuss things, or to be dragged into a girl-and-dog lovefest with the dog who is lolling on the end of her bed.  And yet, both of these things happen with amazing regularity.  Or there will be sudden spoken annotations: “You are really sick!” or “How did you predict that?” or, more often, “Well, you got that wrong, didn’t you?” Sometimes as I read a phrase or an image will catch her magpie brain and demand discussion. I’m used to this–unless she’s utterly exhausted, this is what the experience of reading is for her (she loves non-fiction, and writes ferociously in the margins of her books).  So that’s how I’m reading to her.

It’s just a touch unsettling, but finally kind of nice, to go through (re)discovery of this book with her.  I’m finding, so far, that I like the book, too.  And that’s a nice thing for a writer.

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Re-Read, With Annotation — 5 Comments

  1. It is my contention that 9-11 is the big artistic watershed of our generation. You can read works written before, and after, and really see the difference.

    • I don’t think it’s the only watershed, Brenda. I find myself feeling the same way about technological change.

      In fact, at this point I don’t feel like September 11 changed that much. It affected me very much at the time, especially being in DC — I walked the six miles home from work, because I was convinced that the subway system was at risk. I’m aware of it when I visit my sister in NYC (she lives 3 blocks from where the World Trade Center used to be and her family had to stay with friends for a month after the attack).

      But these days I don’t feel like it changed the world nearly as much as it felt like it did at the time. That is, there’s a strong personal effect, but it’s not unlike that of a hurricane or tornado. Those things mark the people who went through them, but they’re not usually about the bigger picture.

  2. Madeleine, this warms my heart on so many levels.

    I’m also relieved that my sons will never ask me to read my first published work aloud to them because, sex.

    Life is good. 😉