Monday, November 9, 2015

William Goldman

I was eighteen when I read The Princess Bride. Yes, it was a movie, but before that, it was a book, and i read it straight through one weekend after I moved into my first apartment ever, sitting on my bed or in the one chair I owned, munching toast because anything else took too long to make, drinking hot tea, ignoring my freshman biology homework, and read and read and read.

When I was done, I was changed forever. I couldn’t keep it to myself, so I started telling an acquaintance about this great book that I had read, The Princess Bride, and about how the movie part was only a little bit, even though Carol Kane in it is my favorite to this day, that there was so. much. more.

There was the hunt for the book, and the story with the grandfather (Yes, I said, the guy played by Peter Falk), and the fever and the game on the radio. Then later, though, as an adult, the quest for the book, the kid with the bicycle, the wife, the girl by the pool, the late night phone call with a friend, pretending to be unaware of the late hour, all because of the story. The story, the part that they made into a movie, that story.

But the story isn't’ the book, see, because the real part, the part that changed my world, was the parentheticals, the asides, the tale about getting the story, about finding out that the story actually sucked, and about how he wrote the good parts version for his kid because that’s the point, you know, the giving of a story worth reading.

My friend looked at me kind of funny, just drinking in my enthusiasm. I’m pretty certain he didn’t want to say what came next.
“It’s a convention.”
Images of RoVaCon, folks dressed up as Spock and talking with Harlan Ellison jumped into my head. “A convention?”
“Yeah, like in Name of the Rose or a hundred other tales about the finding of a book. The book is made up.”
The autumnal day spun away from me, hard to grasp.
My breathing slowed as I let that sink in.
“O my God!” I yelled as I stood up. “I bet he’s not even married!”

I didn’t read another William Goldman novel for almost a decade. It helped that i didn’t know he had written anything else, of course. But when I was an acquisitions librarian in a private college, one of the circulation librarians asked me to take a couple of the returned books down to be shelved outside my office. As I scanned the location in PS for the spot for the call number of the second book, the title caught my eye from the worn red cloth. Boys and Girls Together, it read, silver letters flaking to dull, the chipboard cover worn, the spine with that malleability that comes of years of fingers turning pages.

William Goldman. The name on the cover broke my heart like seeing a picture of a high school sweetheart as his twenty year reunion, beautiful wife on his arm. I took the book into my office, thinking I would just give it a glance.

Two days later I came upstairs with the book, most of my reports and correspondence unattended, and slipped off to kinko’s to photocopy the pages. The pages that anyone who has ever loved or been loved or wanted to be loved knows immediately, the pages that I had to send to someone, because they were just that good, because they couldn’t be kept to myself. I slipped the pages and the book back in my backpack, walked back into work as if nothing was going on. I highlighted and wrote all over the pages, folded them up and sent them off (you know, in an envelope, with a stamp, at the post office), because they simply had to be shared.
I finished the book that afternoon and placed it on the shelf outside my office, where it belonged.

I didn’t read another William Goldman novel for twenty years, mostly because I didn’t know he had written any. This evening I started Magic, a little hesitant to open it, afraid that the magical, personal, I-know-who-you-are voice that I found in The Princess Bride and in Boys and Girls Together wouldn’t be there.

The first paragraph allayed my fears, and I’ve spent the last ninety minutes, captivated, so certain of the magic that Magic would bring that I started reading it aloud to my partner, who fell asleep snuggled up on me on the couch, but that’s okay. I put a bookmark in the spot where he started to snooze and I'll keep reading, probably late into the night and into tomorrow. There is plenty of toast.

I’m just now starting chapter 8, but I can promise you that already there are pages that have to be shared, have to be experienced, that just can’t be kept to myself.

William Goldman, I love your voice.