Thursday, June 22, 2006

The box in my mother's basement

Every time I visit my mother, I make my way to the crawlspace in the basement to retrieve childhood treasures — books, naturally. What was once a 5-box storehouse has now dwindled to 2 cartons, each only half full. Over the years, I've winnowed the contents, releasing some to charity, some to their rightful owners, some to the dump. Quite a few have made their way to my home, finally I have my own home, but I've resisted the logical course of action: packing the boxes into the trunk of the car, moving them in one fell swoop. My trips to the basement are adventures I'm not ready to end.

One of the remaining boxes keeps my Nancy Drew collection. Those books will come home with me someday, but I have no inclination to reread them myself, and my daughter is still too young for them.

The other box still holds mysteries. Old friends wait there too, but there are books I barely recognize. Their illustrations are vaguely familiar, titles ring distant bells — I know them from a past life. Indeed, after some 20 years of weeding and sorting, I know that every book there is there for a reason. But what reason?

On my last visit, I plucked out The City Beyond the Gates, by N Roy Clifton. It's copyrighted 1972, but my edition was printed in 1977. Likely I read it when I was 8 years old.

I read it again. It's a dystopia and an allegory. And it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

It is probably the very first dystopian fiction I read, something I did develop a taste for. My 8-year-old self was looking for a perfect world, knowing it would never be found. My 8-year-old self did not find this book simplistic, naive, obvious; she thought it was cool. My 8-year-old self learned that other people were looking too, and that some things can be found only in literature.

"No one tells me what to do."
"What you mean is," said the Kemarch, gently, "that you are not aware of anyone's telling you."

I cannot confirm the identity of the author. Perhaps he is this man: Quaker and vegetarian, remembered by RH Thompson.

The most unsettling aspect of the book is, in my view, its illustrations, by Tibor Kovalik. I think they speak for themselves.

Indeed, I have found a great treasure in the box in my mother's basement.


Anonymous said...

It's great to have a trove like that. My boxes in my mother's basement are now depleted but I used to love rifling through them. We still have our boxes full of books in our own basement...these are waiting to find homes our shelves.

Renee said...

I have entire BOOKCASES of my books at my parents' house! It's like visiting old friends (as well as my parents) every time I go. If only I had enough space in my house for them...