Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Love Myself

Day 63 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Jerry, who used to run a baseball card shop down the street from the vintage bookstore where I work, is reading Zora Neale Hurston, because he saw a television documentary on her.

He probably knows all about Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn (featured in a previous entry), pitcher for the Providence (RI) Grays, and his fabulous 59 (or 60)-win season, who is buried here in town. Or maybe not. Maybe Jerry's had enough of professional baseball.

Maybe now he is always reading literature by women.

After all, he came in the door looking for poetry by Louise Erdrich. We didn't have any at the moment. And we'd sold all her fiction when she came to town recently. "She came to town?" said Jerry, mingled excitement and loss in his voice. She came in a university library reading series.

I scanned the Select New Arrivals shelf, in case anybody had recently brought something back after stocking up for her visit, and the boss took Jerry down the fiction aisle, just in case we had anything left. Jerry then browsed on his happy own, coming back with 2 books by Hurston.

"I grew up in Georgia," he said, and told us about the program he'd seen and Hurston's upbringing in Florida. It reminded me of an essay in a college reader my students had read and discussed, preparatory to their own essays on neighborhood, culture, identity, sense of self, sense of self in contrast to others: "How it Feels to Be Colored Me." Hurston lived in all-black Eatonville, Florida, before she went off to school in Jacksonville, where "I was not Zora of Orange County any more. I was now a little colored girl."

I grew up in Gainesville. Hearing Jerry talk about Zora made Spanish moss hang down greenish gray from the trees of memory.

Hurston died poor and neglected, after work as an anthropologist and folklorist, as well as a writer and actress, but out of sync with her friends and fellow writers in the Harlem Renaissance. Then Alice Walker revived interest in her with an essay in Ms Magazine and the book I Love Myself When I am Laughing...and Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive. (I love the whole long title!)

I wanted to ask Jerry if he'd read Marjorie Rawlings of Cross Creek and The Yearling. Another time...

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