These days, I've been browsing the new non-fiction shelf at the library to find something to read, and this week, it is this little book, 74 pages long. Nearly half of it is taken up with the introduction, which is as interesting a read as the story itself.
If you've ever read anything by Nathaniel Hawthorne, if you are like me, you don't want to read anything by him again. I read "House of Seven Gables" when I was in college.not as a assignment of course, but because it was a classic, or he is a classic author, or something. After all, he's on the Author's cards.
His style is long, involved and with vocabulary that nobody of this generation has ever heard of, and very few of my generation, and even then only the people who love books, words, and reading the dictionary, "for a bit of light reading".
This book is different. It is the story of a father looking after his 5 year son, while his wife and two daughters are away visiting her mother. It is a quick and easy read, and deals with the age old story, of a father, who has never taken care of a child on his own before, now is, all by himself.
You can also get a glimpse of the family's parenting style, which is way ahead of his time. He isn't the only one of his time to treat children as people, very early in their lives. Another one I can think of off the top of my head is Branson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott.
The introduction, by Paul Auster, starts out by saying, "[this book] is one of the least-known works by a well-known writer in all of literature. Buried in the seventh folio of Hawthorne's American Notebooks--that massive, little-read tome of treasures and revelations--.....With no intention other than to record the doings in the household during his wife's absence, he had inadvertently embarked on something that no writer had ever attempted before him: a meticulous, blow-by-blow account of a man taking care of a young child by himself."
It makes me want to find out if there are any other neat things hidden in that American Notebook thing.
Here are a couple of other quotes from the introduction that I found interesting.
"Twenty Days" is a humorous work by a notoriously melancholic man, and anyone who has ever spent an extended length of time in the company of a small child will surely respond to the accuracy and honesty of Hawthorne's account.
Una and Julian [Hawthorne] were raised in an unorthodox manner, even by the standards of mid-nineteenth-century Transcendentalist New England. Although they reached school age during their time in Lenox (when this story is written), neither one was send to school, and they spent their days at home with their mother, who took charge of their education and rarely allowed them to mingle with other children.
That is the beauty of Hawthorne's little piece of notebook-writing. Throughout all the drudgery of tedium of his constant companionship with the five-year-old boy, Hawthorne was able to glance at him often enough to capture something of his essence, to bring him to life in words. A century and a half later, we do it by taking snapshots and following them around with video cameras. But word are better, I think, if only because they don't face with time. It takes more effort to write a truthful sentence than to focus a lens and push a bottom, of course, but words go deeper than pictures do--which can rarely record anything more than the surfaces of things, whether landscapes or the faces of children. In all but the best or luckiest photographs the soul is missing.
I really enjoyed reading this book, and I know some others who would enjoy it also. The only thing wrong with it, is the author of the introduction, he uses too many hyphens.