Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gaps to Fill

Yesterday I read an essay entitled “The Book of Knowledge” by Steven Harvey, the last in “The Best American Essays of 2013”. The author recalls his fascination with the encyclopedia set his mother bought, his delight studying the colored plates of birds, butterflies, moths and beetles and more. Suddenly I pictured The World Book Encyclopedia set that filled almost one entire shelf of the redwood bookcases flanking our fireplace in my childhood home. Each olive green volume bore gold letters indicating the alphabetical span of topics. In my student days I resorted to the knowledge within those tomes to research assigned topics which I wrote in uncertain longhand on lined binder paper.
Other books on the shelves remain etched in my memory. They must have been my mother’s books as my father limited his reading to the newspaper and Time magazine. There were several books of poetry, although the only one I remember actually reading was a collection of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I was attracted to its vivid colored illustrations of Hiawatha, deep primeval forests and Paul Revere’s dramatic ride, and the rhythmic, narrative text, accessible to my young mind. Alongside Longfellow were Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Robert Burns’works (probably my Scottish grandmother’s), neither of which do I recall reading.
I still have my well-worn copies of A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, Now We are Six and Winnie the Pooh, that my mother first read to me before I later read them on my own. One of my childhood favorites, which I kept on my own book shelves was Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, even attempting to write poems in his style, none of which were saved for posterity. Older, my exposure to poetry was limited to occasional selections in high school literature texts.
Now I live in a country that cherishes poetry, being the homeland of two Nobel poets, Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. I’m attempting to become more comfortable with reading poetry, my writing group being a great source of suggestions. A few years ago, I decided to fill a big educational gap and read some of Laurence Ferlinghetti’s and Allen Ginsberg’s works as background for a magazine article. I lived in the San Francisco-Berkeley area in the 1950s and 60s, but the Beat Generation held no interest for me then.

So many gaps to fill, brilliant works to read and so little time. 

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