In January of this year, one of my “resolutions” was to read twice as much as I read in 2015. It wouldn’t be hard, really, since I only read 12 books in 2015. But reading requires time; there is an algebra equation to be solved, with the “X” being the speed one can read and comprehend the words on the page. Or maybe “X” is just time itself, chopped into little bits and applied to one thing and another.
My high school may have had a speed reading class, but I could be wrong. If there was, I didn’t take it. Controversy still exists as to whether speed reading is truly reading or skimming; how fast can one read and still comprehend?
And if a book is not wonderful, does reading it faster make it better?
Having just finished reading a well-written and enjoyable book of historical fiction, I’m now reading something else. The Fires of Autumn by Helen Howe, was in a “fall reading” display at the local library. With the word “autumn” in the title and a foliage-littered dust jacket, this book from another time had somehow escaped purging to the annual library book sale. It was written in 1959 and takes place in the fictional Maine town of Cranford, somewhere near Bar Harbor. A gaggle of summer gals, aging widows, decide to stick around after Labor Day. The fall shadows stir up more than cocktails as they sit in front of their cozy fires. Long kept secrets are revealed and scandals illuminated by the fire light. I couldn’t help but wonder if the author was influenced to write this book by the wild success of Peyton Place, published four years earlier in 1956.
The author had a summer house in Somesville. The dust jacket says she was a “member of a distinguished literary family, she turned easily to writing, but first she had a full and busy career as a professional monologist.”
Helen Howe doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry but her papers lie in repose at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. The Bar Harbor Historical Society probably has some newspaper clippings about her, too. Maybe she gave a summer book signing. It would be interesting to read her papers, or maybe skim them.
There are so many stories out there waiting to be written. But they’re not always within easy reach. Solving for that X of time always reveals how little there is at the end of the day. Helen Howe and the scandals of Somesville will have to wait; I’m on deadline now to write a feature about bagels for the local paper.
Back in 1983 I was–briefly–engaged to a young lady from Somesville. I don’t know if it has changed, but back then the tourists rarely crossed over to the other side of Somes Sound, although more than a few of the well-knowns owned places down that way (IIRC, George Schultz, Dan Fogleberg, that cooking/cleaning lady who did the prison time, to name a few). In winter we actually checked on a few summer places for people whose names meant nothing to me then, but might now, fascinating places full of glass on top of hills. The kind of people who left widows behind who might stay over past season’s end. You’ve interested me in the book.
But that X of time. 1959 was closer to 1983 than 1983 is to now. How often we are reminded that the past is a different country.