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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winner Take Nothing: Finished After 42 Years

This is the copy of Winner Take Nothing I bought around 1969 and never read--somehow it survived while many better-loved possessions slipped away. Inside the back cover I wrote my name in trying-to-be-grown-up cursive, with my address and junior high school.

Back then, as I have said, I wanted to own books, especially books by authors whose names were famous and had a majestic sound. Shakespeare. Chaucer. Hemingway. Steinbeck. James Fenimore Cooper. Some fatalistic mood must have attracted me to this title and I seriously intended to read it.

But now the idea of trying to read it at age 12 is comical. I wouldn't have had any idea of what was going on in most of these stories, and not just because of all the French in them. For example, there's "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" in which a boy tries to castrate himself: at 12 I didn't know what castration was and the dictionary definition could not have enlightened me. Nor would the subtler events of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" meant much to me: I'd have read that the man was old, deaf, and alone with as little response as I'd also read, around the same time, that Allie Caulfield had died--would have seen them as random details to fill in the story and then wondered, coming to its end, why it didn't make much sense to me.

So I'm glad that in my ignorance I left Winner Take Nothing alone. Or I could be kind and say wasn't it very wise of my younger self to leave it alone, but save it on the shelf these many years, awaiting le jour convenable for understanding it better, and also, a little French?

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