Literature I've Loved
Updated: Apr 23
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings won the Pulitzer Prize for The Yearling in 1938, five years before I was born. Eight years later my mother read The Yearling to me—a chapter a night. During the day I read ahead until I had finished the book and learned of Flag’s death. From sharing Jody’s world in a primitive Florida, I was changed. I still remember the duality of my feelings. First, my profound sadness. Each night when Mother read, I tried not to cry. When she asked if I had read ahead, I lied and said, “No.” Yet the sadness I felt was overlaid with a profound joy at having discovered through words a separate world—one evocative of what I, at eight, also felt. This, then, was what literature foretold in life; that good books, those that depicted life at its truthful core, meant a reader need never be alone. As much as family and friends provided companionship, even love, it was artists who offered chinking for life’s rough-hewn walls.
Jody and Penny Baxter were the first ‘true’ fictional characters in my life. Each was more real than persons I sat beside in school and church, or met in the streets of a small town in southern California: people whose views, largely muffled by cultural conventions, divulged few secrets and rarely spoke in a wondrous vernacular. In contrast to those I knew, Jody invited me to enter his heart and mind, to walk with him through swampland, to know his friend Fodderwing, to feel this deformed boy’s death, to recognize the basic nobility of Buck Forrester, and the senseless, persistent cruelty in his brother, Lem. Through Jody, I experienced Penny Baxter’s enduring love, understood in a wordless way that Ma Baxter’s stoicism was essential to her continuance. Along with Jody, I nuzzled the yearling Flag, feared the bear Slewfoot and, after living through a horrific snakebite with Penny, deemed never to set forth from our mountain cabin again without a rattlesnake kit. By novel’s end I had shed many tears—unable at eight to accept that Jody had shot and maimed his wild beloved creature; that Penny, stricken as he was and barely able to walk, had finished Jody’s job and killed Flag. And with the yearling’s death, so went the dream of a child—to have something to love and call his or her own. What was there for Jody to do except run away, and while running, to leave his childhood behind, and then changed—to return home. Then, again in a wordless way, I realized that good literature offers a sustaining and transforming experience.
In this blog I will write about novels after The Yearling that influenced my life.