Amy Calder read these three 20th century American classics as a teen. Now, some 50 years later in the midst of a global pandemic, she has reread them from a wholly different perspective. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Someone posed a question on Twitter this summer, asking what we turn to for solace, entertainment and joy during this pandemic.

My answer: Books.

For those who can’t travel, books provide virtual journeys that we can mold through perspective and imagination.

Reading serves to ground us when we’re feeling anxious or fearful about what’s happening in the world.

It makes us sit still, reflect and decompress.

I’ve had a rule for myself for many years: I always have a book going and read it every day, even if it’s only a couple of pages.

The pandemic prompted me to do something this summer that I had only dreamed about — re-reading some classics I read in high school and-or college. Alternating with reading recently published political works, I met my goal.

A friend had a garage full of free books and invited me to indulge.

I chose some classic American literature in John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley,” Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” and William Faulkner’s “Light in August.” Three very different books, by three brilliant writers.

In “Travels with Charley” I traveled across the U.S. with Steinbeck, then 58, and his dog, from Maine to California, and places in between. It was a delightful journey, replete with memorable characters and much humor.

With Hemingway’s 1929 novel, I revisited Lt. Frederic Henry’s tour as an ambulance medic in the Italian Army in World War I, and his ill-fated love affair with Catherine Barkley. Ironically, during the time I was reading the book this time, I found a DVD of “A Farewell to Arms,” starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, a movie produced in 1932.

Rereading “Light in August,” a heavy, dark novel set in the American South of the 1930s, was harder work. Through deftly drawn characters, Faulkner pursues themes of religion, class, sex and race. In a world that continues to be fraught with racial tension nearly a century later, being immersed in Faulkner’s story was sometimes painful.

Most interesting to me is how differently I viewed these three novels, a half-century after I first read them. Approaching the novels from the perspective of a teenager who has had little life experience was a foray into the exciting unknown, whereas reading them as a 64-year-old afforded me a depth of understanding and appreciation I didn’t have as a youth. The good thing is, the reading experience was compelling, both then and now.

After “Light in August,” I vowed to read something light and entertaining, so I turned to “Secrets in Summer,” by Nancy Thayer, a friend and fellow lover of books who lives on Nantucket and has written some 30 novels about life, family, love and relationships. That’s the wonderful thing about the world of books. We can direct our own virtual journeys, and choose the topic.

I wait with anticipation for new works to be published by some of my favorite modern authors including Richard Russo, Ian McEwan and Elizabeth Strout, but also enjoy reading biographies, or plucking off a shelf a book that just seems to strike my fancy. I have found the most intriguing little tales in obscure places.

So, yes, my personal antidote to the virus is, simply, books.

In them lies the key to intellectual health and a wider understanding of humanity.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 

 


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