A couple of years ago — or maybe it was even last spring? — I read Howards End for the first time. It blew. my. mind.
I had seen the movie many times and had always loved it. The movie is fantastic. One of the best movies I've ever seen. As great as the movie is, the book is even better. There's a section where Margaret can't figure out why Helen has been so distant, and as she thinks about it she comes to the wrong conclusion. I read that part while eating pad thai alone at Stickers cafe and I cried into my lunch at two o'clock in the afternoon. Unable to see the words on the page, I swiped at my face with my napkin — the brilliance and total fallibility of her conclusion moved me so much. She'd gotten it so right and was still so wrong. I looked up and was alone in the restaurant. I'd been there for a couple of hours. I paid, took the book, and headed down the road to the Reed College campus, needing an emergency tree to sit under to finish the book. I found a great tree but then pretty soon a guy came along on one of those riding lawnmower things and started mowing the enormous lawn right in front of me, slowly going back and forth and back and forth, getting ever closer to my tree and making me all nervous . . . plus it was extremely loud. I picked up and went across the street to Crystal Springs and found another tree at the water's edge. I finished the book there, sitting on a tree root in the dirt, late in the afternoon. I can't remember the last time I read (or made time to read) for that many hours in a single day. That was the best book. For me, at that time in my life, on that day, it was. I didn't want to let that one go.
The opening scene of the movie, where Vanessa Redgrave is walking around in the fields outside her house (the house is named Howards End) at dusk, dragging her long skirts through the long grass, and the rest of the family are seen through lighted windows playing a game inside the lovely house. That scene isn't in the book, I don't think — at least not that literally? But those first two minutes or so — the purple-gray evening light, the glowing Queen Anne's lace, the paned windows, her walking alone — they have always stuck with me. It's almost like certain visual moments make such an impression on you that you somehow internalize them, or memorize them, and then you might find, without your totally realizing it, that you're looking for a place like that, or trying to make a place like that. You're conjuring something. I remember another time, way back in River Forest, when I was sitting at the drive-through at the River Forest Bank, waiting for the money tube to come back. It was late summer, early evening, the light was golden, I was just waiting, and a bunch of seed pods and dandelion puffs floated past, and for a moment they were silhouetted black and silver against the sun. And I thought suddenly, "There. That. Like that." As if I'd somehow been waiting to see dandelion puffs and seed pods sail by. Like I recognized them, somehow.