The other evening, I lurched around the bookstore desperately, trying to find something to please me. All my life I have been a dedicated if capricious reader; I've read almost every night since childhood, but the number of books I'e stopped reading is countless. My handful of favorites is exclusive; I reread them more times than you might think it possible or necessary, and when I discover something new that obsesses me in that old, familiar way, I can think of almost nothing else until I'm (nervously -- now what will I do?) at the last page.
Last week, Andy had mentioned that on Christmas Eve we couldn't forget to toss in the fireplace our "letters to Santa," the smoke of which goes out into the atmosphere on its way up North for Santa to decipher. This idea comes straight from one of my favorites, Little, Big by John Crowley. It's a book I was introduced to in college and had read aloud to Andy on our long drives through snowy mountain passes at night, when we lived in Montana, and which he eventually reread himself, so we share it now. It's a book that sort of makes its way into your life, and then -- you're different.
Originally published in 1981, I think there is a little bit of an underground following surrounding it; it made its way around my circle of college friends and its references pepper our collective vocabulary (and choice of baby names). It has gone in and out of print over the years; my several tattered copies make a patchwork of covers. Lo and behold, in my desperate quest to get something before they kicked me out of the store Monday night, I turned and was shocked to see this on the shelf right in front of me -- back in print (actually, it's been available for a while, I just didn't know). I grabbed it and ran to the cash-wrap. I could hardly wait to get into bed (see below).
I was introduced to Little, Big by my friend Erika, probably fifteen years ago now. I think she was doing her master's in English at the University of Chicago at the time, because I was visiting her in Hyde Park. She was older than I was; I didn't know her well (and have since lost touch), but I looked up to her and was always flattered by her attention. I'd plucked the book from her shelf, and she came over to show me. "Oh, here" she said, "read this." Page 2.
She was not much in his mind as he walked, though for sure she hadn't been far from it often in the last nearly two years he had loved her; the room he had met her in was one he looked into with the mind's eye often, sometimes with the trepidation he had felt then, but often nowadays with a grateful happiness; looked in to see George Mouse showing him from afar a glass, a pipe, and his two tall cousins: she, and her shy sister behind her.
It was in the Mouse townhouse, last tenanted house on the block, in the library on the third floor, the one whose mullioned windows were patched with cardboard and whose dark rug was worn white in pathways between the door, bar and windows. It was that very room.
She was tall.
She was nearly six feet tall, which was several inches taller than Smoky; her sister, just turned fourteen, was as tall as he. Their party dresses were short, and glittered, hers red, her sister's white; their long, long stockings glistened. What was odd was that tall as they were they were shy, especially the younger, who smiled but wouldn't take Smoky's hand, only turned away further behind her sister.
Delicate giantesses. The older glanced toward George as he made debonair introductions. Her smile was tentative. Her hair was red-gold and curly-fine. Her name, George said, was Daily Alice.
He took her hand, looking up. "A long drink of water," he said, and she began to laugh. Her sister laughed too, and George Mouse bent down and slapped his knee. Smoky, not knowing why the old chestnut should be so funny, looked from one to another with a seraphic idiot's grin, his hand unrelinquished.
It was the happiest moment of his life.
I hope you like this book.