Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I have done 2 posts about author and professor Sam Pickering. In the 1st, I remarked that he was my favorite professor at the University of Connecticut, and in the 2nd I included an excerpt from an unpublished essay he wrote about his visit to Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth, Western Australia. In this 3rd post, I bring to your attention his 21st book, A Comfortable Boy: A Memoir. Of the book he writes, “My readers are likely to be old and content, their muscles corpses of themselves, their thinking realistic, beyond believing in reformation by sentence. Still, for readers intent on nosing up lessons, the book is filled with little, forgettable accounts of decency and love, stories that nudge the funny bone and provoke soft smiles. Perhaps a few readers will close this book and scrolling back through their years discover the stuff of their happiness, material that will make them appreciate the present more.” It’s a gentle book full of strong characters that does make you conjure up remembrances of your own. It provoked in me the memory – undocumented in any photo album – of my Dad icing up the horn of the life-sized rhinoceros he, my sister, and I built in the front yard of my childhood home after a heavy snow. As an only child growing up in the South, Sam liked nothing better than to rummage in his relatives’ attics, and in this memoir relays the fruits of some of those labors: the quirky content of birthday cards and saved newspaper clippings, in addition to letters shared between family members who fought on both sides of the Civil War. My favorite story in the book follows the description of young Sammy’s voracious reading habits. “After reading Treasure Island,” he writes, “I roamed landlocked woods hoping to find gold, not pieces of eight in a dead man’s chest, but an abandoned car, money hidden in a suitcase under the front seat, or if not money, a body, preferably a skeleton, locked in the trunk. Forty years later when I found a Volvo in woods near our house in Nova Scotia, moss flaring up over the sides and planters of ferns on the roof and atop the trunk, I scattered forty ‘loonies,’ brassy dollar coins, throughout the car. The next day I led the children on a salamander expedition during which we just happened to discover the car and its golden treasure. A man does not become the books he read, but books can certainly contribute to the fun of being a parent.” With only a few such insights into the man, the bulk of the book is about the physical and metaphorical wanderings of the boy. And his comfort rubs off on the reader.

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