Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Publisher Format: St. Martin's Griffin (1997), 152 pages
Subject: life as we wish it could be
Setting: Pacific Northwest island, small town inn
Genre: short essay, memoir
Source: public library I keep smacking myself to refrain from describing this as a "sweet little book." OK--I said it. It is a calming, soothing, elegant, portrayal of the life of twin brothers who, now in their late middle years, have turned the family house where they grew up into a bibliophile's retreat. There is no TV, there are no nearby restaurants, there is little to do except show up, eat good food, and read good books.
No the BBB&B (as they call it) is not in heaven, but it sure sounds pretty close to it to me. There is a resident cat Waffles, whose naming story begins the telling of the tales. There is an articulate swearing parrot in residence named Mrs. Rochester, whose appearances throughout the book add just the right touch of colorful zest. The brothers themselves, Hector and Virgil, give us their birth history (including their conception under the oil pan of a truck), and a portrait of their unmarried (and never married) mother who raised them with a love of books that has never left them. The twins give us reading lists of favorites, among them: "Virgil's List of Books for when you're feeling low" and Hector's "List of Favourite Authors for the Bath."
In the story "Love and Skincare" we meet Altona Winkler, the local Avon lady, newspaper reporter, and novelist wannabe whom Hector describes thus: "...my association with Altona Winkler..has gone on for a long time now. It suits us both.It is relaxed and casual. Comfortable. In one way or another, we tend to each other's needs."
Guests come toting bags of books to be read, or find an appealing volume in the BB's library. Breakfast is served by the brothers every morning, but guests, who are given the run of the kitchen, are responsible for fixing their own lunch and dinner. Lasting friendships are formed, and guests are encouraged to leave their thoughts in the guest book. In between vignettes from Hector and Virgil, we are treated to stories written by various temporary residents, some of whom have been returning for years.
Virgil, who took up playing the bassoon several years ago, shuts himself in a closet to practice under the watchful eyes and ears of Mrs. Rochester. He also can recite from memory hundreds of poems he learned as a child, including the poetry of the town's now long dead reigning poet Solomon Solomon. This talent is especially well regarded since the local newspaper where the poems were published never kept an archives, and old copies don't seem to exist anymore. Speaking of his poetry reciting prowess Virgil says "I love the phrase learning by heart, especially when it is applied to poetry, because it seems such a perfect description of the process of memorizing words that have been carefully chosen and weighed and handled. The heart, I think, which is the home of all things rhythmic, is where learned poems go to live."
This small easy-to-read tome is easy to love. It gives us literature, poetry, enchanting vignettes of life and makes us want to find this real Shangri-la in the Pacific Northwest. When I find it, I probably won't tell though. I want the whole place to myself.
Though written almost twenty years ago to collect stories recounted on the Canadian radio by author and raconteur Bill Richardson, this is a timeless piece of writing. Do try to find a copy and make it your own. My thanks to my friends on LibraryThing for pointing me in this direction.