A couple of years ago, my friend Becky introduced me to the wonderful British literary magazine Slightly Foxed. She mentions it herself over here. I’ve been wanting to subscribe to it ever since, but it’s incredibly expensive for us Americans to do so, so I’ve been putting it off. Recently, though, I’ve been given some monetary gifts, and I’ve decided to treat myself to it for a year (which will, of course, turn into more than a year, once my subscription runs out, but I’m hoping I’ll have more gift money by then). Sometime shortly before that, my former boss had lent me a collection of Algernon Blackwood stories that included The Wendigo and a book by Kingsley Amis called The Green Man, both of which were wonderfully scary. (Amis surprised me. I’m not a big fan of his, he being one of those smug, “look how clever I am. I’m more clever than you are” sorts of authors.) Earlier this week, Charlotte posted on her experience reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.
You may be wondering what all these things have in common. Well, put such things together in my brain and toss them around in that empty space resembling one of those old-fashioned tumbling barrels in a fun house, and they’ll bump into each other. They may not exactly bond, but connections will be made, and they will stick to each other, at least for a little while. The Scotch tape for Slightly Foxed, stories that terrified me, and Julie and Julia is the word “suggestibility,” a word my brain woos with an ardent passion every chance it gets, but most often when I have the written word in front of me.
They happen to all be perfect examples of how susceptible I am to suggestion when I read. These years later, I’m still amused by the fact that when I read Slightly Foxed for the first time, a magazine that doesn’t exactly review books, but rather, has people write about books/authors they like, I found myself thinking, “Maybe I ought to give The Scarlet Letter another try.” In order to understand how absurd this is, you need to know how often since high school, I’ve “given this book a try.” It’s one of those books that’s alluded to so often in our culture, it’s a shame not to have read it. But I just cannot get into it. Here I was, however, reading how much someone else enjoyed it, and I was convinced it must be the classic to beat all American classics and a delight from beginning to end; my own feelings and opinions just being tossed out the window in favor of those of someone I’d never met.
The Wendigo and The Green Man are both stories created from wonderful, woodsy, mythical creatures. Probably because they tap into a primeval fear of being lost in the woods, they provided especially chilling pictures of themselves when I was reading these stories, and I found myself suspiciously looking out the window across the street to an undeveloped wooded lot where one of these creatures might decide to set up camp and keep an eye on me. Ridiculous. More than ridiculous. You don’t have to tell me that. But this lot is attached to the woods whose trail I trek for part of my morning and evening walk, and believe it or not, sometimes when I’m alone, and it’s a bit windy, and I can hear the fabulous, eerie creaking of the wood as that wind knocks the trees about a bit, I expect to look up and see some branchy, leafy creature lumbering towards me from a place far off the trail. This is an image completely placed there by having read Blackwood and Amis, as well as having recently seen an unrelated, but fantastic, movie called The Wendigo, whose setting is basically right where I live. I spent a good deal of my life living around wooded lots, exploring and building forts in woods, hiking all kinds of trails in all kinds of places, and never once did I imagine such a monster following me around (the furry Big Foot, whom I read about as much as I could as a child, yes, but not this fellow). Now, he’s there on many occasions.
Charlotte and others who commented on her post agreed that not only did Julie and Julia not inspire them to want to cook their way through Julia Child, but also that it did not really inspire them to cook anything from Julia Child at all. I wish I could be so unaffected. I read this book and immediately wanted my own copy of Julia Child, just at the point when the latest edition was being published. I found myself wondering if I could ever master the art of flipping a crêpe. If I were to buy and cook lobster, something to which I’ve always been opposed (I won’t eat lobster, not because I don’t like it -- how could one not like something that’s basically an excuse to eat tons of melted butter -- but because I feel so sorry for those creatures floating around in tanks with their poor little claws taped shut, and the idea of boiling them alive horrifies me), would I discover the same animal instincts Powell seemed to find buried inside once she started preparing lobsters? Is there something to the notion that we enjoy the kill as much as the food, but don’t want to admit it? And then there was the liver, which was just like The Scarlet Letter. I know I hate liver. No one has to tell me that. Unless it’s lovingly disguised in a delicious pâté or turned into Liverwurst, I don’t want to see it or smell it, let alone have to eat it. Yet, Julie, with her descriptions of how much she ended up liking it, had me second-guessing this knowledge. Thank God I’m married to Bob. My common sense had lapsed into a coma or something, but all I had to do was imagine his reaction were I suddenly to race out and buy a few pounds of liver to realize what a bad idea it was.
These are just a few examples, but give me a little more time, and I could probably come up with hundreds (actually, that should be hundreds of thousands. Just the topic of illness alone could produce hundreds) of my 110th percentile ranking on the suggestibility scale. But, I haven’t got time. I’ve just heard something downstairs and need to go see if it’s the Green Man knocking at my door, and if no one’s there, I need to find a copy of The Scarlet Letter to peruse after I’ve whipped up a batch of crêpes for dinner tonight.