Monday, November 1, 2010

Touched by an Angell

As strange as it seems, the last week before a race is the toughest time for me. Although, or maybe, because, running is at a minimum and free time is at a maximum, I go out of my mind. To make matters even worse, it is hard to adjust my carbs-heavy diet during this time and with less running, there will likely be more of me to carry 26.2 miles. This past Shabbos, I found myself reading Roger Angell’s memoir “Let Me Finish”, at least partially, to distract myself.

For those of you who have not heard of him, Angell is a contributor and former editor of The New Yorker as well as baseball writer of note. I knew him as the latter before I knew anything of The New Yorker. My dad bought me a number of Angell’s baseball books, which I appreciated at the time for the baseball more than the prose. Now that I have belatedly discovered the other side of Angell, it is too late to let my dad know how much I appreciate the prose.

Angell, who is 90, writes with a fondness for the past. Although he writes with nostalgia for the people and events of his youth, he refrains from looking at the past as perfect. Although I’d love to feel a connection to my dad’s past as I read Angell, I can not. It is not just the 15 years that would separate them if my dad was alive. Angell’s upper crust Upper East Side childhood, bears no resemblance to my dad’s childhood in the Bronx. While Angell grew up with both a regular dead and a famous step-dad (E.B. White author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little), my father’s dad was gone by the time my dad turned 12. Still, as I read through the memoir, I can’t help but feel a connection with my dad, wishing I could discuss this book to him. I dare to dream that I might lend him the book when I am finished, so that we could discuss its content more intimately.

As strange as it seems for a man of 90, each chapter comes across as a blog of sorts. Angell meanders through his past reminiscing wistfully, as he examines moments from his life, as one might examine an old photograph. Each paragraph seems to digress from the one before it, only to be tied together neatly by chapter’s end.

As I read his words, I compare them with my own, and, of course, mine come up short.
Just this past week, I found myself discussing Shabbos with my students. We talked of the real purpose of the day and why otherwise perfectly fine secular pursuits are put aside for 24 hours. Perhaps there was some degree of hypocrisy of reading this book, on the very first Shabbos after our discussion no less. Still, as I thought of my dad and grew nostalgic for a somewhat more innocent past, I felt as if I’d been touched by an Angell.

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