I’ve been thinking about my kids’ summers now vs. my summers then. I spent most of my summers with my grandmother in Martins Ferry, Ohio. I slept in a big queen bed in the corner of a room, that to me at the time, felt like a stadium. I looked at photos of the place on Zillow recently and I can’t recognize the room. The world is bigger when we are small.
I remember reading until midnight. I’d take out a stack of library books and go through them slowly, savoring books like Half Magic and the Narnia series, skimming through science and electronics books. Some nights I’d say up and watch Saturday Night Live reruns and then Monty Python reruns on public television.
I’d listen to cars passing by on their way up Seabrights Lane, up into the hills. I’d hear a glass bottle shatter some nights when the teens in town were rowdy. The house creaked itself to sleep, wood shrinking in the heat. Crickets would sing in the dark like the woman next door, the widow who would drink and get lonely.
My kids don’t have much of that. They are in the middle of a big city where crickets don’t usually sing (but drunks do). They have their computers and devices. They wander through tarmac streets to meet their friends at cafes.
The closest thing I had to a cafe was a news shop that sold Isalys Ice Cream.
They spend two weeks at camp every year, up near Ashtabula. They spend nights in the dark, with crickets all around. Car wheels hissing by every few hours. Lake Erie is not far, the lake breeze breaking the murk of an Ohio summer.
Going back to Martins Ferry is like going to a funeral. The town is nearly shuttered. A few things survived. The Library. Deluxe Novelty. DiCarlo’s Pizza. I’m sure the crickets are still singing but there aren’t many people around to hear them. Martins Ferry was part of the Meth Belt.
But I think that my kids have the best of both worlds. They live in a small town in the middle of a big city and then go to a small place in the middle of the country. They’re lucky.
Martins Ferry isn’t so lucky. My memories of it are all I have. I hope it pulls out of its tailspin, like the rest of America.
Until it does, my kids are living a life they’ll recall fondly, years from now, when they think about the endless canvas of their early summers. I guess we’re all supposed to get that chance.
And now onto the books.
Feeling generous? Join my paid subscribers. You’ll basically be encouraging more of these newsletters and I will have subscriber-only posts every few weeks.
by Michael Kimmelman
I picked this book up on a whim from our Little Library and I’m glad I did. Michael Kimmelman is an art critic for the New York Times and he has written a sort of primer on modern and early modern artists. The book details multiple artists including Pierre Bonnard, Charlotte Solomon, and Philip Pearlstein. Kimmelman brings us into their lives using vignettes and stories that make great cocktail party conversation. In the end, however, this is a book about creativity and how it can save you or kill you.
by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is an easy read and kind of annoying. He’s sarcastic and some of his turns of phrase can be a little rough but overall his books - mostly history and travelogues - are well worth a beach read. This is another Little Library book and I enjoyed reading about his trip through England where he tried to go from the bottom of the island to the top. It’s not great writing but it’s fun.
by A.J. Quinnell
First, if you haven’t watched Man On Fire, do so. It’s a great movie. Now if you loved the movie and want to see the source material, feel free to skim this slim novel by a South African writer who died in 2005. Quinnell, who lived in Malta until his death, is a writer in the old Robert Ludlum school where the psychology of the characters is writ large. This book, which sets the story in Italy and not Mexico, shows you the scaffolding onto which they hoisted the movie and is pretty entertaining in its own right.