Forgotten Cultural Icon

October 14, 2006

Remember Euell Gibbons? You’ve got to be of a certain age to recall him hawking Grape Nuts on TV. The author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962) hearkens back to the days when public television called itself “The 21-inch Classroom.” Euell may just have had a show, I don’t know. One of the first “health food nuts” of our times, his Stalking the Wild Asparagus is just the book I need when I think of the uneventful apocalypse ahead, where we have to find our own edible tree bark and make soap from beetles’ wings because the distribution of goods shall have decayed so. He’s got a whole chapter on burdock!

The title has been much riffed on, but I’d completely forgotten it until now, poking through the shelves of my friend’s house in central New Hampshire, where I’m blissfully spending the afternoon doing nothing but drinking tea and reading (and now writing). Toasty on this brisk October day with the sun slanting in the windows, and even the four dogs quiet after our three-hour hike this morning. (Child and husband went on their own camping trip, no dogs allowed.)

While on the topic of reading, I just finished Pere Goriot, the 1834 novel by Honore de Balzac. I do seem to be on the old book kick this year. I read it because a) it has been sitting in my house for 60 years (it came with the house when I moved in) and b) just previously I read an endearing little novel called Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. It was a sweet book on a serious topic and I enjoyed it. But it made me realize I had never read any Balzac. I had always admired him though for his reputation, productivity, intriguing name, robust deshabile statue by Rodin, and not least, the fact/story/myth that I’d heard that he drank 60 cups of coffee a day. That is prodigious.

Before the Little Chinese Seamstress, to go yet further back in the conversation monologue, I had read another oldie: Melville Goodwin USA, a 1952 novel by John P. Marquand. I love J.P., and this was the fourth or fifth novel of his I’ve read. Least favorite too, but it wasn’t bad. I’d recommend B.F.’s Daughter over it, or Wickford Point, or his most famous The Late George Appley. (Melville Goodwin, I just discovered, was made into a movie in 1957 called Top Secret Affair.) Before Melville, I finished the previously mentioned Ten Circles Upon the Pond.

Have I wandered enough? Back to my fading afternoon of reading I go. I am loving the come and go of the furnace’s rumble, and the gentle snores of the sacked-out dogs.

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