This past Sunday, the New York Times Book Review had its annual special "Summer Reading" issue. I always like the Summer Reading issue--there's a long cookbook review and gardening review and travel review--all things I like to read about. And sometimes--though not this year--they have special features.
Every year, when the Summer Reading issue comes out, I hope there will be something as memorable as there was on June 11, 1989, when they had a feature called "Anywhere, With the Best of Company," in which "The Book Review asked several writers what character (or characters) in fiction or history they would most like to travel with, and why." The one that has stayed with me for all these years, and which I can still quote from, was by Roy Blount Jr. who, otherwise, I mostly think of as a participant on Wait wait . . . Don't Tell Me.
Somewhere, in a file tucked away, I have the yellowed and crumbling original, or perhaps a photocopy of the original, which had a place of honor on my wall in Delhi and in Eugene and even Northampton. If I were a more organized person, and one with a scanner, I'd put that here as a visual. But I'm not, and I don't, so the words themselves will have to do.
I would like to buy Emily Dickinson a pair of sunglasses and drive around America with her. We'd make our way from Amherst, Mass., to the Mississippi delta, where we'd eat greens and butter beans and sweet, crunchy fried fish and whatever else we wanted at a place called the Booga Bottom Store, and then leisurely work on up through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, singing with the radio, and at some point I'd cut a little look over at her and say, ''So how about this, then?'' and she - on whom, as Henry James said, nothing was lost - would glance back sidelong and say delicately, definitely, For each ecstatic instant We must an anguish pay In keen and quivering ratio To the ecstasy.
And I'd say, ''Yeah, but Emily. Hey.''
She'd be looking off to the left at the cliffs and the sunset. And a light rain would start to fall, and I'd switch on the wipers, and they'd be slapping time to Ray Charles singing ''What'd I Say?'' Baby I wanna know . . . Baby I wanna know right now. . . .
And she wouldn't say anything for a while. Then I'd look directly over at her and say, ''Hey.''And she would grin.