Thursday, July 17, 2008

More on Nana’s Books

When Nana’s books came, my father was very kind and clear: I was only to keep what I wanted and needed. There was no need to preserve her library intact or to keep books of little value for sentimental reason. Her library was good in its contents, but most of the paperbacks had come unglued from neglect and bad weather. His kindness and my studio apartment helped me winnow the boxes down to a more reasonable bounty (though you would never know that from the mammoth library that burdens us in our little apartment today).

One book that I kept, then got rid of, and now regret giving away was my Nana’s Milton in one volume.

It was the Bobbs-Merrill Milton, the same one I had used in college. And disliking Milton as I think I do (I suspect that he intimidates me more than I dislike him) and having my own college notes in the margin of my copy, it seemed strange to keep another copy of the very same book simply for sentimental reasons.

Except for one thing: it was all marked up with my Nana’s notes. The notes she made as she was losing her sight.

And the one note that made the book radioactive to me at twenty-four is the note that makes me now curious to see what else was there: Randomly, in the margins of Paradise Lost, Nana wrote “Why doesn’t Graham [my father] make Anne learn Latin?”

Somehow, back then, my mother and I pieced together that this had to have been written when I was seven or eight, around the time that my Nana pronounced, to my young mind, my failure as a writer. For, visiting her down in Florida, I showed her a short story I had written, heavily indebted to Hans Christian Andersen, about a little mermaid. She took out that Bobbs-Merrill Milton and turned it to Milton’s juvenilia: “Here’s a poem Milton wrote in Greek when he was six. Well, this is the Latin translation he made a few years later…”

I threw in the towel.

And, at 24, I threw the Milton in the recycling.

After all, a girl has to live.

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