Archive for March, 2011

The Purloined Letter

LOVE by Garnet Goldman

This column first appeared in the March issue of Forsyth Family magazine:

I just discovered two marvelous books that countless others have discovered as children – “The Wind in the Willows” and “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

After coming back empty-handed from the library the other day, I began poking through our bookcases. Given that I had read most everything, I didn’t expect to find anything sustaining. I was just hoping for something to tide me over until I found the next absorbing book. When I came upon “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, I thought it might be fun to spend some time with it even though I had already read it. Or so I thought. I soon discovered that I was wrong about having read it. Apparently hearing about Toad and Toad Hall somewhere along the way, my brain had misfiled it.

Once I settled in to give it a serious read, I had to adjust my reading speed, which was set on “brisk,” a pace better- suited for the straight-ahead sentences of a John Sandford novel than the leisurely descriptions and warmly humorous clauses of Grahame’s stories. Having to make the conscious effort to slow down reminded me of the first – ¬and only time ¬ – I went to Hawaii. Beforehand, someone told me to make sure I didn’t drive more than 35 mph because ticketing tourists was a significant source of revenue for the state. At first, driving that slowly was a struggle. Soon, though, the gentle, fragrant air of Hawaii had me thinking, “Why would I ever want to drive faster than 35 mph?”

And so it was with “Winds in the Willows” – what a delightful world to luxuriate in. I started reading it aloud to Sparkle Girl and, whenever he chose to join us, Doobins. As the end neared, Sparkle Girl began lobbying for making “The Phantom Tollbooth” our next read-aloud book. Her fabulous teacher in fifth grade – Mrs. Hill – had read it to her students, and Sparkle Girl was eager to to return to the world where people get to the island of Conclusions by jumping and where, when you have no “if, ands and buts,” you go to the “word” market to pick up word staples and perhaps a word treat such as “quagmire.”

I knew for sure I had never read “Phantom Tollbooth.” It, too, proved to be one of the most refreshing reads I have experienced. The books have been a double blessing. The first was the pleasure of spending time in such agreeable imaginary worlds. In recent weeks, I have set aside more than one book because, although it was well-written, it was grim.

The second blessing is a quickened sense of possibility in the real world. Sometimes, when it has been a while since I have read a really satisfying book, I start fretting, “What if I never again find a book that I thoroughly enjoy?” And, here, I discover that two of the most enjoyable books I have ever read have been sitting in plain sight for years. What other wonderful things are right in front of me that I have yet to notice?