Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
Summer has begun, which in my case means concentrating full force on my dissertation, I remember when it meant something not all that different…summer reading. When I was small, Friday afternoons were reserved for visits to the video store and the library. My father would take my sister and I to the North Point Branch of the Public Library in Baltimore and, if we were “good” (which we sometimes were), a stop at Herman’s Bakery for a cake, cookies, or other dessert. Maybe we’d all do to Squire’s on Holabird for a pizza!
Rummaging through boxes of books in storage this weekend for a book on errata lists, I found an old set of Susan Cooper’s series The Dark is Rising. I bought the set at a used bookstore in West Chester about five or six years ago, intending to reread them later that summer as a bit of nostalgia–although we had prepared to move that Fall and the set got packed and I still haven’t read them.
Twenty years earlier, I had checked out the entire series over and over again for at least three summers. The Grey King was probably my favorite. The remember being thrilled by its Arthurian-styled mythologies and scared by the breath of the Grey King, the thick rolling fog, and the invisible huge grey foxes–that now remind me of bit of M. Night Shyamalan’s scrunts in Lady in the Water (2006). And I remember my father correcting me as I bent pages that I like and penciled my name on the title page and sketched images of episodes and characters in the margins that I sadly had to erase.
There are so many works on how books change us and so little on how we change books. Book historians and scholars have only begun to examine the handwriting, notes, doodles, and related marginalia in works and popular works–still so interested in the influence of the masters–have yet to scratch the surface on our own footprints in these works, and beyond them.
I see that Over See, Under Stone has turned 50 this month. It is a bit different than the more fantasy-based motifs that would dominate rest of the series, reading more like the Hardy Boys tales I was used to when I first picked it up in the third or fourth grade. What I remember most is the magic, the secrets, it created around texts themselves: old manuscripts, secret maps, bookshelf burglaries, and the journey on which they took the Drew children. Like me, they were on holiday, and, like me, they played in attics and closets similar to ones found in my grandmother’s house. After reading their stories, I combed through the bookshelves hidden on the third floor of the house and in the ancient armoire that housed my grandfather’s old sports jackets and World War II uniforms, boxes with military medals, old letters, a phone book, a scapular or rosary . . . He passed away before I was three-years-old and this was a clue to my own mystery. If I kept rooting through these shelves, maybe I, too, would find a map to him. If I opened the wardrobe at just the time, perhaps I would be whisked away to some alternative world. This is what I remember.
So happy birthday to Susan Cooper’s Over See, Under Stone. Opening up my relatively fresh–and completely clean–copy of Over Sea, Under Stone I can’t wait to muddy the waters, to go on another adventure, and to feel a little more magic once again.