Editorial, Kids

On My Nightstand: Associate Managing Editor Molly Jones

Every month a Chronicle editor is sharing the list of books he or she is currently reading. This month we hear from Molly Jones, Associate Managing Editor in Children’s.

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

The Catcher in the Rye has a permanent place not just on my bookshelf (although I have another copy there too), but also on my nightstand. I’ve taken it with me everywhere I’ve lived since I first read it, and I reread it almost every year. This copy, with the reprinted first edition jacket, was a gift from my brother.

I had an acquaintance ask how I could read a book over and over when I already know what’s going to happen at the end. That’s a little like asking how you can watch a movie more than once, and the answer is obvious to me: in the best literature, the story and the characters leave the page and become part of you. “How is Holden doing?” I’ll wonder, and I’ll pick up the book and begin his journey again. Every time I read it I have the same urge to reach into the book and pull him off his psychological ledge, just as he wishes he could have somehow helped his brother.

“You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? . . . By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?”

Picture of The Lake in Central Park, which I took in the winter of 2005 . . .

. . . and the ducks.

A lot of people have asked me why I love this book so much. I’ve heard “it’s boring,” and “it’s difficult to get into,” among the many complaints. I’m going to guess those people haven’t experienced what Holden has. It’s about the kind of loss so great that the pain is physical—loss that leaves a hole you might be less aware of as time passes, but that never heals. Without ever describing that pain in words, Salinger brilliantly paints an agonizing portrait of a boy struggling to cope, who can’t make sense of his broken world and who the outside world can’t seem to reach. I get that.

Gimme Something Better has been on my nightstand for months . . . well, this copy has. I originally borrowed a copy from a Chronicle editor (thanks again, Steve), who happens to be friends with author Jack Boulware, after I attended the Litquake reading “Journey to the End of the Bay: Punk Rockers Spill Their Guts.” (Incidentally, Jack is also a co-founder of Litquake—if you’re not familiar with this amazing SF festival, visit www.litquake.org). Back then I seriously considered writing a Green Day biography and I spent an entire year listening to their music alone, reading just about every interview they’ve ever given, and otherwise obsessively researching their history. (Did you know they wrote a song called “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”? At the time I thought it was a sign.) Anyway, we have a proud punk history here in the Bay Area and this is the definitive book about it.

Knowing my love of dark crime novels, my Columbia writing school friend Johnathan Wilber (who’s also a talented editor in New York) gave me this book he acquired: The Hangman’s Daughter. I haven’t cracked the cover, but I’m excited. Witch hunts and hangmen wrapped into a murder-mystery, and written by someone who’s a descendant of executioners. What’s not to love? Pötzsch’s follow-up novel, The Dark Monk, will be released in the U.S. in June and I’m lucky enough to have a sneak peak at it as well.

This 1907 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, found in an antique store, was a recent birthday gift. How lucky am I? In all of my children’s book reading, you’d assume I’ve read this classic. I must shamefully admit that I haven’t. This edition is filled with full-color illustrations by Bessie Pease Gutmann, on taped-together pages, with type you can feel. Lovely.

Solace was written by another Columbia writing school friend, Belinda McKeon. Being half “Heinz 57,” as my grandmother would say, and half Irish, I gravitate toward anything representing that small, identifiable piece of my heritage, and I recognize that I have an idealized view of it. I find Belinda’s Irish-immigrant perspective enlightening and I’m glad to get a more honest picture of contemporary life there through her writing. I also appreciate the way she handles child-parent relationships, what burdens each generation feels, and, again, the theme of loss, dealt with in a direct, specific event, and through characters that aimlessly wander through their lives numbly.

I’ve loved the Beats ever since I first met them in college. I read everything Allen Ginsberg ever wrote and took an entire class on Howl. I visited City Lights and Lawrence Ferlinghetti happened to be there (I was too awestruck to say anything to him). But I never got around to reading On the Road. I bought this copy back in 2007, which was the 50th anniversary of the original Viking publication.

The story goes that originally Kerouac brought a 120-foot-long scroll of taped-together pages of tracing paper, filled with text without paragraph or page breaks, to his editor, whose supposed reaction was “How is the printer going to work from that?” A much edited, rewritten version with (thankfully) paragraph and page breaks was published six years later with a different editor. Have a look at this book and you’ll understand why I still haven’t finished reading it.

Honestly, I’m not sure what this bookmark is marking. Maybe the beginning of the second sentence at the top of the page? I’m determined to power through, however, reading what the writer intended, but with a new appreciation for the editor who took this massive block of text and shaped it into something the American public could digest. If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure there would have been a book published to celebrate 50 years later.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is generally part of core middle school literature. I remember first reading it when I was about the same age Anne was when she began writing it. Thirteen. When bodies change, crushes and curiosity abound, and the bubbles that many of us grew up within begin to pop. Words such as Holocaust enter our vocabulary, words that for me are as incomprehensible now as they were when I first heard them. Anne’s diary pulled at me—“why didn’t anyone save her?” I angrily asked my teacher. Just a few months after that, violence touched me personally: My neighbor was a victim of the 101 California Street shootings. She left behind a six-month-old daughter (who I babysat from then until I graduated from high school) as well as a dedicated husband (who told his story all the way to the Capital where he helped sign into law a ban on assault weapons). Thirteen. It’s when I realized that not all stories have happy endings, but even in dark times there are good people and there is hope. Now, these are the stories I value most.

Photograph of Anne’s original diary.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Amsterdam recently and visit the Anne Frank Huis museum, formerly the jam and spice factory above which Anne and her family hid for two years before the Nazis discovered them. There I purchased The Definitive Edition of Anne’s diary with its cloth-covered slipcase designed to resemble the actual cloth-covered diary in which Anne wrote.

Ticket from the Anne Frank Huis.

Disguised bookcase-door leading from the factory to the secret Annexe.

Pictures are pictures, but to walk through the claustrophobic rooms with their blacked-out windows and ladder-like stairs, and to see the preserved, grim wall with Anne’s pasted movie star photos, gave me a new appreciation for what she lived through.

“Thanks to Father—who brought my entire postcard and film-star collection here beforehand—and to a brush and pot of glue, I was able to plaster the walls with pictures. It looks much more cheerful.”

That, I must say, is a grotesque use of the word “cheerful.” But when faced with the kind of life-or-death situation Anne was, I wonder if I would be as optimistic. Is the ability not to simply make the best of things, but to actually find happiness in such a bleak setting inherent in all children or was it particular to Anne? She dreamt of being a journalist when she grew up—that is, of capturing the world around her in words. Who would she have become and what would she be writing now?

The Annexe is in the building on the left, closest to Westerkerk, in which she found comfort in the quarter-hourly bells.

The last part of the tour offered a peek of the loft—the only part of the Annexe with daylight. On a nearby wall is painted this quote from the diary:
“As long as this exists . . . this sunshine and this cloudless sky . . . how can I be sad?”

I’m almost done reading Anne’s diary (again) and it has certainly reminded me to reflect, to be grateful. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I have today and that’s something I can’t take for granted.

Molly Jones
Associate Managing Editor

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2 Comments

  • Eloise March 26, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Wow, beautiful post Molly! That edition you have of Alice's Adventure in Wonderland looks to die for…

    Reply

  • Taylor Norman March 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Molly, this was a great post. I've never read Alice either, by the way, so it's good to know someone else hasn't. Also, I am newly inspired to construct a disguised bookcase door. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply

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