23 July 2009


After only a few hours reading, I just finished The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. I haven't yet seen the movie, but I probably will, since I guess it was knowing of the film and Kate Winslet as the star that drew me to the book in the first place. The story is written in such a succint, straightforward style, with references to Nazi concentration camps and guilt and abandonment phrased in such a matter-of-fact way. The book and the amount of reading I've been able to do this summer makes me wonder: What is the world like to someone who cannot read or write?

One passage I marked:

"Her handwriting never became fluid, but it acquired something of the severe beauty that characterizes the writing of old people who have written little in their lives."

I immediately called up images of the bits and pieces of handwriting I've seen from both my grandfathers, one who is alive and well and one who is not. Both men I consider wise and probably wiser to the ways of the world than I will ever be. I just haven't seen much from them by way of handwritten (or typed or otherwise put together) notes, so the ones I have seen I remember.

My mother's father was usually spoken for by my Nanny, who often wrote me letters when I was young and who always sent out birthday cards signed for the both of them. My dad's father has been a widower for many years. He sent my sisters and me some money via my parents one July a few years ago with a letter that said he'd heard of Christmas in July before and just wanted us to have something. The letter wasn't long, but my mother had photocopied a copy for each of us. He said it had been a sad and lonely winter since his longtime friend and companion, who he had fished with and eaten with and been kept company by for years since my grandmother died when I was three, had been put in a nursing home after a stroke that left her unable to communicate. He simply, in mostly capital letters, spelled out what he was thinking and what he wished for us and I still think about that letter.

This past Christmas, I didn't get to see him, but I mailed him a card and a gift certificate, since I always think of him and want to give him something but never know just what. He sent back a clear and simple thank you in a card he must have made a special trip to buy for me--written in pencil as the other letter was--saying he had been wanting a drill and that the card "just covered it" and that he was "real proud of it."

I don't know for sure that either of my grandfathers are people who "have written little in their lives." They both, after all, lived through the very war (and the atrocities and crimes of that war) the book I just read explores. They probably wrote home. I know they both read. They've seen the world in a way I never will. Thinking of the few snippets of their handwriting I've seen just makes me wistful...


MickeyMFan said...

Hayley, you write so beautfully. When I read something like this, it reminds me of two things: 1) the idea that I have only ever seen my mom's mom's handwriting out of all of my grandparents and now that she is gone, I won't be seeing it again. and 2) this is a story that I can imagine you telling your students as I sit in the back listening. :)

BTW--The Reader was a great book! I read it last year and passed it on to several of my seniors who loved it as well. While I was so excited to see the movie, I have to say I was disappointed. Kate was fantastic, but the book was MUCH better (as usual).

trash talk said...

This post brought back a lovely memory of my mother. All her notes and cards were always in cursive. She told me that she was never taught to print. When she started school, they were immediately taught "longhand". Her printing was just like chicken scratch (her words). I hadn't thought of that in years.

common ground said...

We saw the movie last week. I had not read the book, but there were so many subtle nuances that I knew the book had to be amazing. Kate was perfect in the part, but the explicit scenes were... well, explicit. I know they were an integral part of the story, but a little too much visually. Excellent movie.

Artsy Fartsy Junkin Finds said...

That is such a really sweet story relayed over so well, you can truky feel your compassion. Thank you for stopping by to vist my blog, I will be back often to see what you are up to, Blessings, Jannaouckin

Aunt Karen said...

Hayley, this is a wonderful post. It makes me want to hunt down notes or letters from Mamaw and Grandma Curtis...and to hang on to everything that I have from Mother, Aunt Lorene, my mothers-in-law and anyone from previous generations. It seems like these items are becoming more and more rare.


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