Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sunday at Borders with Ralph

My 96-year-old landlord has a lot of free time and perfect eyesight. He likes to read, but is very particular. He sampled almost everything on my bookshelves and then took a liking to Peter Mayle. He'd never before heard of Mayle, who sold millions of copies of Year in Provence, first published in 1991 and on the Best Seller list for eons. But that's recent history to Ralph.

Ralph began with Year in Provence, Mayle's personal accounts of la vie quotidienne in the South of France. He continued on to Toujours Provence, also in my personal collection. But we soon had to start ordering more books from

Before too long, Ralph had read everything Mayle has ever written, including novels about the advertising business in New York - where the author was once a copy writer - and books he wrote for children and new fathers when a new baby was on the way. Ralph loved them all. He ordered the Year in Provence movie, even though he doesn't own a DVD player, and started talking about taking a trip to Provence.

A near crisis arose when we ran out of Mayle books and football season had not yet arrived. Nothing else would do. I suggested Water for Elephants, which I loved. The book starts off with the main character staying in a nursing home, reflecting back on his life. His parents died young, leaving him penniless so he joined the circus. "Depressing!" Ralph declared, promptly returning the popular book to my shelves.

I thought he'd enjoy A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson about two, out-of-shape, middle-age guys trying to hike the entire Appalachian trail, but Ralph called it "stupid." I considered the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series might pique his interest, but he had no interest in Botswana, waving those charming stories aside.

I gave him a Borders gift card for taking care of Mojo when I was away. On Sunday, we made an expedition to the book store at the outer limits of his territory, about two miles away. When I picked him up, he was dressed in tailored jacket and silk tie. No one ever went anywhere dressed casually in his day. Surely, we would find something exciting to read in the emporium of books.

Ralph wandered around the fab Borders (converted from a magnificent funeral home), dismissing whole categories, including horror ("junk!"), romance ("trash") and science fiction. You're deciding that just looking at the covers? "That tells me a lot!" he said. How about Steinbeck? Vonnegut? Willa Cather? Do you have a favorite author? I asked.

He refuses to read anything tragic, lovelorn or fantastic. "I know there is unhappiness in this world, but I don't want to read about it," he said. Perhaps that's the secret to Ralph's longevity.

Couldn't we find something like Mayle? I finally insisted he buy SOMEthing and chose a book by Garrison Keillor, Mayle of the Midwest, as well as The Hour I first Believed by Wally Lamb. (If he won't read that, I will!) Ralph never heard of Keillor either, nor A Prairie Home Companion, which has aired on National Public Radio since 1974. I'm sure all the rest of you know it.

There's so much more that Ralph has to experience and Keillor has produced a lot of stuff.

No comments:

Post a Comment