the power of books.

I read this article today, and it was beautifully written.

Written by David L. Ulin, he speaks about his relationship with his father and how it is based around books – sharing books, and ideas. That’s where their intimacy lies, and how it always will.

books

This, I want to say, is why we fall back on books, the two of us, individually and together. This is why we prefer to talk about ideas. This is why we shift from terra incognita to a world that is mapped and known, where we can pretend emotions are not an issue, that we don’t want anything from one another that we don’t already have. I think about that photograph I posted, taken at a brunch in my parents’ apartment the morning of their 50th anniversary party, in April 2008. In it, we are sitting together on a sofa in the living room, a piece of abstract art on the wall behind us, with a field of geometric shapes in yellow, blue, and red. That painting has hung there for longer than I can remember, so long I have stopped noticing it, wallpaper, set dressing, part of the display. So, too, the lamp on the side table with its crystal stem and linen shade, as well as the Meissen porcelain figurine beneath it, the female figure hunched forward, reading, like a symbol come to life. In the picture, I am smiling into the lens, while to my left, my father sits back, gazing past the frame. We look alike, we have always looked alike — or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I look as he did when he was my age, and he looks as I will when I am his. This, too, is part of our connection, our disconnection, the way that gazing at him is like staring into a convex mirror, through which I see more limits than possibilities. Limits — as in the limits of the body (his has fallen as mine is falling, thinning out around the chest and shoulders, gathering around the waistline, in the gut), as well as those of the soul, a kind of internal mechanics of distance, as embodied in his manner of sitting, backed into a corner, eyes flat and dispassionate, as if too reserved, too unemotional, to allow himself to be involved.

My father and my mother, co-conspirators, a society of two, in many ways, which is also true of my wife and myself. Still, where is the place for children in such a dynamic? I wonder from both sides of the lens. How do we reach out, how do we find a middle ground? My father was surprised that I bought him those Orwell books; I could tell by his tone of voice. He was surprised that I had pushed the conversation to another level, that I had taken it to heart. I mentioned that I had written about them, but he didn’t ask for a link, nor did I offer to send him one. Part of growing up is that we no longer need our parents’ approval, although it’s nice to have. In any case, he is now reading Orwell, an essay at a time, and I look forward to discussing them, at some point, some evening perhaps when I call him after I have been drinking — not too much but just enough.

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