Sunday, May 26, 2013
And When She Awoke From The Magic Spell She Found She Was in the Enchanted Kingdom of Trenton
I spent my late afternoon commute from work in Philadelphia to home in Collingswood in the usual manner. I snagged the first seat I could find and settled in to read. I looked up as the train slowed to a stop, tucked away my book and got off… at the wrong stop. I had just read my way to Westmont and had to wait fifteen minutes for a train back. Well, might as well read some more.
When I got to work the next day I began to quiz my most steadfast book friends about their experiences of literature and mass transit.
My friend Dennis, who knows more about music than any human being I know, talked about routinely finding himself 4 blocks past his stop as he was reading The World According to Garp. “I found the story beautifully human,” says Dennis. “I loved the characters Irving created. They were extreme, but not so far out of reach that you couldn’t find something to relate to. I was completely drawn into the story.”
Bill, who would know more about music than any human being I know if I didn’t know Dennis, found himself at the end of the Lindenwold Speedline because of the “grippingly odd” Jitterbug Perfume. Bill notes that he’s one of those people who has to avoid department store perfume departments but, he says, “Jitterbug Perfume almost made me want to experience the nuances of manufactured fragrances. Almost. We had reached the end of the line in Lindenwold before I knew I’d missed my stop. It being off-peak I had another 20 minutes with Tom Robbins before the next train brought me home.”
And now Suzanne who just knows more about everything than anyone I know. “I distinctly remember the day I missed a stop while reading The Secret Life of Bees. The train was making its way through a steady rain and it was usually quiet. I looked up and saw Trenton. My usual stop was Langhorne.” Suzanne is given to falling into the worlds of the books she reads and has also sailed past her stop while reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
I would like to say that I’ve missed stops reading the later novels of Henry James. You know, there I am with a well-worn copy of The Ambassadors, trying to figure out the true meaning of the raised right eyebrow that Lambert Strether turns toward Chad Newsome and Marie de Vionnet and so engrossed in the power of the unspoken, time and destination mean nothing. Not likely.
Indeed I’ve missed stops twice because I was reading what I characterize as “the kind of thing I don’t usually read.” My most recent miss was while I was reading one of George RR Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice series. I began the books because John Lanchester, whose novels I admire, suggested in the London Review of Books that people who turned up their noses at George RR Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien weren’t worth the time of day and lacked imagination. Then he added (and I'm condensing this) “And W. H. Auden thought so, too!” I’m not sure I’ll get to Tolkien but the Martin books are really gripping yarns. It reads rather more like a historical novel about ancient Britain than I would expect from a work of fantasy.
But I first missed a train stop when the aforementioned Suzanne introduced me to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The novels include time travel and romance. EWWW! But the travel in this case is to 18th century Scotland and there’s lots of action.
When I sailed past my stop, I was reading an utterly unbelievable bit where the heroine rescues the hero from a fortified, well guarded prison. “I don’t believe this. This is so far-fetched” I muttered to myself as the Collingswood station receded into the distance.
Luckily for we writers of fiction, reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.