Books Shared ~ grandmother and granddaughter
by Patty Lawrence
My grandmother, whom I called “Dodie,” introduced me to Margaret Atwood. Dodie belonged to a reading group that exchanged books and once everyone had read them, the group members could buy the used books. She bought Margaret Atwood’s A Cat’s Eye for me. It was the beginning of many happy hours spent with Atwood.
I don’t remember reading books with Dodie when I was a child, but we enjoyed sharing books as adults.
Book sharing originated with Dodie when I was an undergraduate and taking a Jane Austin class. My grandmother sent supplemental readings and pictures that she researched at the library. I still have that packet.
Throughout my college days Dodie followed my literature classes and often sent interesting relevant tidbits.
My grandmother had a life-long love of learning. Since Cal was a professor at Ohio State University, she could take courses for free and she often did.
In the fall of 1988, I started graduate school at Xavier University in Cincinnati. That spring my grandmother decided to take another course on African art. It was fun to be college girls together even if we were two hours apart and she didn’t have to worry about tests or grades.
In the spring of 1989, I took a course called “Women Writer’s on War.” It was a great class with a challenging work load and reading list that reflected the professor’s feminist views. My grandmother took that course too. Vicariously, through me.
It was long distance learning before the Internet. I’d read my books, write papers, make presentations, or do whatever was assigned, and when I was finished, I gave the books to Dodie unless she’d already gotten them from the library.
Our book sharing made this class one of my most memorable college experiences.
At the beginning of the semester she wrote, “Thanks for the book list. I am going to the library tomorrow and plan to get a book or two. I have read Nadine Gordimer’s writing and like her and I will try Grace Paley.” Her love of African art resonated with the two South African writers on the syllabus.
The reading list, at around twenty-three books, was the longest of my college career. We read: Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts and my favorite, To the Lighthouse. Charlene Spretnak’s The Lost Goddess of Early Greece, and Audrey Lorde’s poems and a book called The Cancer Journals.
Audrey Lorde described herself as a middle-aged, black, lesbian, feminist and at the time, a cancer survivor. She said, “If you let the world define you, it will define you to your disadvantage.” It’s a favorite quote of mine even if her books were not. I don’t remember much about them except that she describes every detail of sex with her lover.
I read The Cancer Journals on a road trip with some friends who greatly enjoyed jabbing me about reading lesbian pornography. That book got passed along to my grandmother with the rest. We didn’t discuss The Cancer Journals so I’ve no idea what she thought of it. I hope she recognized another soul who was put on this earth with a full agenda.
We read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, which I think she did enjoy as it was often sitting out and the only book I collected back after she died.
In March of 1989 Dodie wrote,
“I have read Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. I am reading Showalter’s Feminist Criticism. Thanks goodness I have a 28 day loan and the library does not charge for overdues on senior citizens. . . I have read short stories by Gordimer. She is so clear. I see the country. We have a cousin living in Johannesburg, I doubt if we could find a Nadine Gordimer book in her house!”
Later, of "Burger’s Daughter," she wrote,
“As usual I enjoy Gordimer. She writes like a pen and ink drawing. I see her proper rooms and landscape when I read. I thank you for all the South African reading you have introduced me to.”
I inherited many of my grandparent’s books. While she was still alive Dodie gave me many of her mother’s books. Mostly they are leather-bound Shakespeare plays and Robert Burns’ poems. I’ve read quite a few of the books but not my great grandmother’s turn-of- the-century crackled leather versions. When I hold those books, bits of binding fall into my palm. I know Dodie found them on her required reading list, too, but these were not the books we read together. We read current writers with liberal ideas.
After Cal had his stroke, I ended up with many of his books. He wrote several books and I treasure those. His collection consists of presidential biographies, psychology books, a few about his home state of Iowa, and one called "More of the World’s Best Dirty Jokes."
While I’m delighted to have Cal’s weighty volumes, few of his books are as a much fun as the ones I shared with my grandmother. In the end, however, Dodie left a well-worn library card and few of her own books.
Art by Mo Conlan
After reading Books Shared, read another essay by Patty Lawrence.
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