Monday, June 1, 2015

W.B.'s Book Report: Dandelion Wine

Two of my favorites
For the last couple of weeks or so, I have been slowing savoring a book I first discovered as a teenager, and I found I am still under its spell.

It is a gift, to know with some degree of certainty that should anyone ever wish to know me - "Who are you, really, in your heart of hearts?" - that I can laugh and hand them a copy of Dandelion Wine and say, "Here, read this and know me, for this is my favorite book. Who am I, really, in my heart of hearts? Read Dandelion Wine and know what touches my heart. I am not any of the specific characters, I was not really a boy like Douglas Spaulding or any of his friends, but Ray Bradbury in describing his boyhood summer of 1928 weaves words that charm me like no other book, that recreate sights and sounds and aromas that he felt as an 8-year-old, and with words he plants those experiences into your own soul, woven with the summers you yourself have known in a way that helps you appreciate your own summers while assimilating his summer of '28.

For Bradbury - or at least for his fictionalized Douglas Spaulding - it was a season of realizing the miracle of being alive - and a season of suddenly and slowly realizing that life comes to an end - and such adventures in between.

Who am I, in my heart of hearts? I am someone who loves books, and this is my favorite book. I am someone who loves, like an old friend or favorite uncle or even a cherished lover, this book. These stories. These turns of phrase. These memories.

It's all there, the summer of 1928 as experienced by a boy in Green Town, Illinois, captured in glass bottles of yellow wine and transformed into succulent words.

Oh, there must be better books. In my lifetime I will read a fraction of all the books that have ever been written. All I know for certain is this book that delighted me as a teenager charmed and thrilled me again in my early 60s, like no other book each time.

This time I read it in bursts, a little at a time, over more than two weeks, although it is a short novel as novels go these days - 184 paperback pages. I remember picking it up once in between, a few years back, and starting to read but not being touched the way I was the first time. I wonder if it was winter then. I wonder if this book needs the soundtrack of the birds calling outside the window, the warmth of spring and music in the air, to come alive. It certainly enchanted me again this past half-month as it did more than 40 years ago, when I devoured it in a rush.

And so I declare it my favorite book - perhaps not the greatest literary triumph, although perhaps it is, because what it literature if not an attempt to capture the human experience in words? No matter. I am grateful Ray Bradbury lived, that he set the summer of 1928 to music, and that I encountered this masterwork at two of the moments in my life that I was most receptive to its beauty.

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