Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Pleasures

Last month we took off over the weekend of the kids' spring break and had a fancy dinner and stayed in a hotel. Walker wanted oysters. Ron had to point out the steamed shellfish on the menu and we all had to agree to share the raw oysters as an appetizer before he could be dissuaded from ordering raw oysters as his dinner. A good thing, as it turned out. Although he said he liked the flavor of the one raw oyster he put in his mouth, Walker didn't swallow it. (He did eat all the steamed shellfish happily, as usual.) Ron and Eleanor each tried a raw oyster. Ron ate several. I thought I could just sit there and not be noticed, but it was decided that I needed to try a raw oyster. I sat there thinking of the poem by Roy Blount, Jr.:

I like to eat an uncooked oyster.
Nothing's slicker, nothing's moister.
Nothing's easier on your gorge
Or, when the time comes, to disgorge.
But not to let it too long rest
Within your mouth is always best.
For if your mind dwells on an oyster...
Nothing's slicker, nothing's moister.
I prefer my oyster fried.
Then I'm sure my oyster's died.

Anyway, I put the thing in my mouth and swallowed it. It wasn't too bad. And I'd tried something new.

Just as potent as the pleasure of traveling to a new place and trying a new food is the pleasure of an entirely new book by an author you already like, especially when the author is also fond of the same kind of books you are. With her first book, The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall set out consciously to imitate the pleasures of books by E. Nesbit and Edward Eager. In her new book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, she also mentions Eva Ibbotson, Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series (a BIG favorite at our house*), and a character from Narnia. In addition, she has one of those odd pleasures in store for parents--the pleasure of hearing the words of a story you've read to your child a hundred million times...I couldn't believe how readily the "Scuppers the Sailor Dog" song came back to me when I heard Mr. Penderwick read it to Batty.

Mr. Penderwick's Latin phrases will not be a mystery to any child who's read the Harry Potter series (we have a new game with books--try reversing initial letters to see if you can make words and phrases that make sense, like A Wrinkle in Time becomes A Tinkle in Wrime, Where the Wild Things Are becomes Where the Tiled Wings Are, and any Harry Potter book becomes Perry Hotter and the...). Mr. Penderwick's date with Marianne Dashwood probably will be a mystery for most child readers, at least until the mystery is revealed towards the end of the book. Just a little Toy Story-like pleasure for older readers.

One of my favorite parts of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is how you can tell that a particular woman would be a bad match for Mr. Penderwick--she not only wears a rabbit coat, but she also has "rabbit fur around the tops of her boots." Shades of Cruella DeVille!

Another favorite part for me is when you see the kitchen of the woman who turn out to be a good match for Mr. Penderwick:

Jane entertained herself by looking around the kitchen. It was nothing like the kitchen at home. It was warm and cozy like home, true, but it was also messy--delightfully so, thought Jane--and it didn't look as though lots of cooking went on there. There was a laptop computer on the counter with duck stickers on it, the spice cabinet was full of Ben's toy trucks, and Jane couldn't spot a cookbook anywhere. This is the kitchen of a Thinker, she decided, and promised herself that she'd never bother with cooking, either.

I have several quite intellectual friends who are good cooks and who enjoy cooking, but I'm not one of them. From now on, I'm going to think of my kitchen as "the kitchen of a Thinker." I can make some good tea sandwiches, and I have a caviar dish with room for ice, so probably I can use it to serve up oysters raw and properly chilled.

*If you want to read the Swallows and Amazons books in order, check out this link:

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