THE BOOK THAT MATTERED
by Abby Pinard
When I turned 13, in the mid-1950s, having long since exhausted the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library, I was finally granted an adult card. Oh, the wonders that were now available to me! Not just the books but the soaring, sunlit space, the hush, and the certainty that important grown-up people were doing important grown-up reading there.
Early on, I read a book called (I thought) A Small Rain. I remember no other single book from that time, but that one stuck with me. There was a scene in which a young girl who plays the piano is asked if she plays well. “Yes,” she says. I was thrilled and appalled! Who could be so immodest? I played the piano, pretty well for 13, but I would never have said so! I was a gawky, nerdy, shy kid, and boasting — or even believing I had anything to boast about — just wasn’t in my repertoire.
Over the years, the book would periodically penetrate my consciousness, and I would think that I should re-read it to figure out why it had been important to me. Was it just that one scene? I had a vague sense that the girl was growing up in New York City but that her city was very unlike mine, and I didn’t remember anything else about her. I couldn’t remember the author’s name, but I clearly remembered that the physical space in which I’d found the book was in the section for authors from J-M. We were a long way from the Internet, and although any librarian could’ve helped me, life intervened; there were lots more books to read, and I never tried to identify the book.
Until twenty or so years ago when I read an article about Madeleine L’Engle that mentioned her first book. The title varied from my recollection only by the difference between “a” and “the,” and her name fit alphabetically. When I read a synopsis, I was certain I had found it, and I bought the book. I re-read it closely but had no clear insight as to why it was meaningful to the 13-year-old me. It’s a coming-of-age story, originally published in 1945, featuring the lonely daughter of mostly absent parents. Maybe I was as shocked by the sixteen-year-old’s relationships with grown men as I was by her immodesty, or perhaps I was fascinated by the glamorous bohemianism of her life in Greenwich Village and Paris. Or maybe it was just that one scene that was so startling that I never forgot it.
The Small Rain sits on a shelf where I can see it from where I now sit. I no longer think it has anything to tell me about who I was at 13, but I may read it once more just to be sure.
A lifelong book nut, Abby retired from a forty-year computer software career and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. A native New Yorker, she moved to Boston to be among her people: family and Red Sox fans. A music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie, she flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.