Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Memory. Konigsberg. (reading).

I have been reading the works of E. L. Konigsberg since I was a child. It started with The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which has long remained one of my favorite books. Two children, a brother and sister, run away from home. They hide out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, one of my favorite places in the world. As they deal with their own issues, as siblings, as the oldest child, as the middle child, as they cope with day-to-day living in the museum, dodging security guards and scraping together money for food and laundry, they uncover a mystery about a statue on display and try to solve it. Finally, they meet the reclusive Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and all the clues fall into place. They come away changed, both in what they learn about themselves and their relationship with each other.

There are so many books by Konigsberg that I love. They are mostly about children who are smart, curious, sometimes alienated, sometimes searching for something. In those preteen years when you are no longer a child but not yet a teenager; childhood is ending but adolescence is still just out of reach. Often they are outsiders uninterested in being part of the crowd, or a group of outsiders who find themselves in each other. Many of the stories involve unraveling a mystery that reveals more about the character than the answers they are seeking. Sometimes they are learning about love, the pain and exhilaration of still being a child and just beginning to see what it might be like to become an adult. Frequently they are finding out about what is right or what is fair and how out in the world unprotected by the people who love you some things are neither right nor fair. They are set in the pale dawn of that world that marks the beginning of the end of innocence.

When I am burned out by the disillusionment and despair and darkness in long bleak novels by writers with unpronouncable names I come back to these stories from childhood. The tales of children discovering who they are and what they believe and how they learn what is right and fair even if the world sometimes is neither. And that feeling when you are young and discovering an innocent love. That raw newness. They make me wish that I was smarter, that I read more, that I was more curious about the world I live in. I don't want to travel back in time when I was young and saw the world through twelve-year-old eyes. When I read Konigsberg I find myself looking back with nostalgia untouched by longing.

No comments: