My Twitter friend Vicki Ziegler asked people online the other day if they could remember the books they were reading during special moments of their lives. Many folks responded with their reminiscences. It was a great question, especially to someone like me, a man so enamored of music and films and literature that when I recall many of the significant events of my life, I think not just of the date on which they occurred but also of the artistic works I was enjoying at the time. Luckily for me, I married someone whose mind works the same way.
On the day my son was born, I was reading Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. (I remember what my wife was reading, too: The Visit of the Royal Physician, by Per Olov Enquist.) I recall, too, the music that was playing when our son entered the world: Bach’s English Suite No. 1, with Murray Perahia on piano. These works will always be special to me, as will Heidenröslein, a lied by Schubert. Before my son was born, my wife and I used to sing to him—snippets of arias from The Magic Flute, jazz standards. The piece we sang most often was Heidenröslein, or, rather, as much of the German as we could remember; we hummed the rest. When the nurse put him in my wife’s arms for the first time, our son was crying, although not, fortunately, with the ear-splitting lustiness of the newborn next door. My wife and I began to sing softly the Schubert piece. In about five seconds, our son stopped crying. We have no way to confirm this, but he looked as if he were concentrating on the music. We sang the lied a couple of times before our son fell asleep. He didn’t cry again that night.
We can’t listen to Schubert now without recalling this moment.
Many other works comprise my personal pantheon of treasured memories. The first book my future wife gave me—we had known each other for less than a month—was her copy of Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin. The first opera she gave me was the original 1945 recording of Peter Grimes, with Benjamin Britten conducting and the great Peter Pears singing the title role. The first book I bought my Henry James-obsessed wife was The Wings of the Dove. I read Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival on train rides during our honeymoon in London. I read Beatrix Potter stories aloud to my nieces when they were little. The first film my wife and I saw together was The Maltese Falcon, which we watched from the balcony of the incomparable Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square. And Bleak House was the book that began a tradition whereby I read to my wife while she cooks gourmet meals—a tradition that continues today, when our son allows us the privilege.
How about you? What books or films or music do you associate with special memories? And thanks again to Vicki Ziegler for a wonderful Twitter discussion.
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