In the midst of my graduation preparations, I was also reading Patricia Meyer Spacks's memoir On Rereading, which George Core at the Sewanee Review had asked me (for obvious reasons, I suppose) to review. I'll save my comments on the book for the review itself. All I'll say here is that it did remind me how steadily my rereader's brain longs for its old friends.
Although Spacks mentioned numbers of books that I, too, reread often, she did not mention the one that I instantly starting rereading, just as soon as I'd finished reading her book: Louisa May Alcott's Little Men. Alcott is an instructional writer. Basically her books for young people are manuals on how a rural progressive temperate abolitionist intellectual in mid-nineteenth-century New England might choose to raise children. Characters and anecdotes vary, but her purpose does not. In Eight Cousins we learn about the kinds of comfortable clothes that are appropriate for active healthy young ladies. In Little Women we learn about the consequences of public humiliation for small school crimes. In Little Men we learn about the important balance between book learning and physical labor. Etcetera, etcetera. In and among these lessons are Dickensian-esque descriptions of comic babies, ink-stained young authors, hooligan pillow fights, and melodramatic entertainments as well as serious moral conversations and sentimental tenderness.
I know these books sound awful, but for some reason I just love them. When little Daisy receives, as a present, a teeny-tiny working cookstove, with a boiling kettle and real smoke from the stovepipe, and little pans of cream set to rise, and a little skimmer to skim off the cream, and a wee little bib apron, and tiny china cups and saucers, and miniature pie plates and vegetable steamers and potato mashers, I am still filled with pleasure . . . even though I now own most of these things as an adult and have to use them every day.
Something about these books, with their sturdy optimism and their open heart, continues to reach out to me. They are clean--in the way that a fresh wind off the bay is clean. They are not art; they are barely literature; but they mean well, and they do well. I'd rather read Alcott than Emerson any day.
That said, once I'd finished Little Men, I immediately went back to the bookshelf to find its sequel, Jo's Boys. AND IT WASN'T THERE.