Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy Birthday Carson McCullers

I have this vague memory of watching a television version of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter in high school with my mom. I have a memory of both of us weeping on the sofa. My mom, a former English major herself, was always turning me on to good books, and we shared a love of Carson McCullers.

Carson McCullers is the perfect writer for females who feel isolated and alienated in high school. Perhaps she's also the perfect writer for males who feel isolated and alienated in high school, but I haven't met the males who fell in love with McCullers. The men I know who felt isolated in high school tend to have drowned their sorrows in Salinger or Hunter S. Thompson.

My mother and I could both so relate to Frankie, who was so lonely, who so wanted to be part of a family. I wonder what that says about us. I suspect it says something about the human condition, that so many of us feel alienated and isolated and alone--even when we have perfectly good friends and family members who love us.

I haven't returned to that book as an adult. I think of Frankie as a character like Scout, but I've returned to To Kill a Mockingbird several times in the last few years as I've written an academic paper. I've loved her just as much as an adult.

Maybe I'll pick up a copy of The Member of the Wedding. As I recall, it's a short book, a quick read (probably a reason why both my mom and I were able to read it at such varied points in our individual lives).

I'm so happy to have had parents who gave me fairly free run of their bookshelves and who encouraged my love of reading--often, by reading what I was reading, or by having what seemed to me at the time to be fairly sophisticated conversations about the ideas in the books. My parents were fairly fierce censors of what we could see on film or television, but they'd let me read just about whatever I wanted. I remember that there was a television show about the Holocaust that aired when I was in the 7th grade, and we had bitter arguments about whether or not I should be allowed to watch the show--it was on network television in 1978, and I imagine that if we saw it today, it would look fairly tame.

Now, I'm willing to admit my parents were right. I try to be careful about what images I let into my brain. Words I can work with. Images tend to take over.

My mom gave me a copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for Christmas the year after we watched it together, even though we'd already read the battered copy that lived on the family bookshelves, and so didn't technically need a new copy. Let me see if I can find it today. If my parents weren't trying to downsize, I'd buy her a copy for her upcoming birthday. Maybe I will anyway. It's a small book, after all.

1 comment:

Kells said...

I came *so* close to naming my daughter Carson after her.