Reed is 100 and I am 41

I shared my birthday this year with Reed College, which put on its 100th Anniversary reunion celebration this weekend. I actually set foot on campus three times yesterday. My run in the morning was through the canyon, where quite a few older alumni were walking in ones and twos on the trails. Just since I was a student in 1992 there have been a lot of improvements and added trails, so I gave directions more than once. They all seemed like people I would like.

Sang and I did a walk-through in the early afternoon to see what was going on. A small Ferris wheel, tethered ballon, and ring-toss stalls were set up on the lawn with a few art projects; families were playing on the grass and the vibe was low-key picnic. All very…nice. Why do alumni not set up the naked slip and slide? Why is all the music so very inoffensive? It kind of depresses me how sanitized alumni events are compared to what goes on when the students are actually there. It feels a little fake, like a simulacrum of Reed.

We went back for the fireworks, where we met up with our friend N and also finally ran into people we knew from our freshman dorm. Up til then neither of us had recognized anyone. The fireworks at Reed are awesome! I hadn’t attended for years and forgot how close up they are. I kept being surprised I wasn’t showered with burnt paper, as I have been at Reed fireworks in the past. It was fifteen minutes, but a very full fifteen minutes. I was lying on the ground and could feel all the thumps as they went up. I am grateful that I haven’t been traumatized by anything explosive and can thoroughly enjoy fireworks. As a bonus, the dog has lost enough hearing so they don’t traumatize him anymore either! (He was at home, of course–but he used to hear them going off at Reed or the waterfront before they had even registered in my awareness.)

I also happened to read yesterday about two kidlit writers whose work didn’t take off until they were about my age. That’s always encouraging. The first was E. Nesbit, who published various things from age fifteen on, but suddenly around age 40 took quite a different tack and came out with her classic children’s stories. I found this out as I finished off The Enchanted Castle yesterday. To my commenter who recommended it after I was so disappointed by The Treasure Seekers, thank you so much! I felt wholly different about the authorial asides in this one. They didn’t seem condescending at all. I liked the book.

The other author is Patrice Kindl– I looked her up after seeing on the children’s literature listserv that she has a new title coming out soon. Owl in Love was her first book, published when she was in her early forties. It is wonderful and I want to read it again soon, but The Woman in the Wall is even closer to my heart, because I am shy and because its matter-of-fact surrealism suits me exactly.

Brought to you by the letter N

The end of N is in sight, in my alphabetical readings. I’m abandoning E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and just started Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. I’ve requested The Time-Traveler’s Wife on CD from the library, so I can listen to it when I run and walk at the track.

I feel bad about the Nesbit. She had a cool life and is one of the early giants of kidlit…but. The book is narrated by one of the children, and the whole time the author is sharing knowing winks with the audience. In the meantime, the kids are acting out tropes from the storybooks they know, in a tedious way that reminds me of the end of Huckleberry Finn. I don’t get who this stuff is for. Are actual children supposed to read this and understand all the things that the characters don’t, and laugh at them? Or are children supposed to read it innocently, on a level with the characters? I have this same problem with a lot of Milne. Do not get it.

Speak, Memory, on the other hand, is enchanting me. Nabokov’s childhood in pre-revolutionary Russia is so far from everything I know that it has that “everyday life long ago = fascinating” thing going on. And there’s something about the precise way he describes thought and emotional patterns that makes me feel like we know each other, like we’re sitting right next to each other. I’m only 20 pages in, but just got to the bit where he talks about his synesthesia and lists which letters in the English alphabet have which colors in his head. I want to do a color picture of his name, and perhaps below it the “word for rainbow, a primary, but decidedly muddy, rainbow…in my private language the hardly prounounceable: kzspygv.”

Early plans for O: Flannery O’Connor and some of the Sharon Olds poetry I haven’t kept up with in recent years.