"Fourteen was when boys graduated into long trousers and since I hadn't yet arrived at that age I was still wearing corduroy knickerbockers. When I couldn't stop reading A Tale of Two Cities, I put my long black cotton stockings across the bottom of the bedroom door so my father wouldn't see the crack of light and come in and tell me to go to sleep."
Calvino, in Once on a Winter's Night, writes that he is only able to read with his feet up, which struck a chord with me. And reading after lights-out strikes another. Me, it was a flashlight under the covers. My bedroom was at the top of the stairs and they were, I think, carpeted, but still I was fairly confident I would hear any adult coming up and have time to put out the light and lapse into a simulacrum of sleep. But once my grandmother caught me--was she particularly light on her feet or was the book a particularly absorbing one?--and I remember begging her not to tell on me. I suppose I was simply oversensitive to scoldings. Funny the things we remember.
We lived in that house, whose rooms I can still visit in my mind, from when I was in third grade (so about 8?) until I was in university (which I commuted to), when we moved from Vancouver to West Vancouver, over the Lion's Gate Bridge on the side of one of the mountains that rise behind the city and plunge fairly steeply downhill to the harbour. When I was growing up we would get a bus up Seymour Mountain on Saturdays to go skiing.
My grandparents lived in Victoria but we visited back and forth. At some point my grandmother caught cancer, and she died when I was 14. What would I have been reading under the bedclothes between the ages of 8 and 14? Not yet Gone with the Wind, surely. Too old for Beatrix Potter, though I remember writing my own Potterish stories in that bedroom. Little Women? There was a leatherbound set of Dickens at my grandparents' but I don't remember reading it. It sat on a shelf with a set of Churchill's Gathering Storm. My grandfather admired Churchill.
Everyone should have read Maxwell's novel which is also a memoir, written about his childhood in the 1920s in Lincoln, Illinois, marked by his mother's death and his businessman-father's getting on with life in a way that perturbed the boy, though, writing from the perspective of grown-upness, he understands that his father probably was as kind as he knew how. Maxwell, who was the New Yorker fiction editor for many years, wanted to call his book The Palace at 4 a.m. after Giacometti's sculpture. Mara Naselli has written a beautiful essay on the book in the Autumn 2014 issue of The Hudson Review. It has sent me back to the book, even though I read it only a couple of years ago.