Letter From My 48th Year (Feb 10)
I was not a kid whose parents read to her. Partially because I lived apart from them for so long, but also I suspect, for them, reading was alone time, not something to be shared, even with their children. I imagine that my Granny Rosie read me Bible stories; I’ve heard that she or my older cousins would sometimes find me at the top of the steps preaching sermons. But the fact is by the time I was four, I was a good reader who didn’t need help to read so it just wouldn’t have occurred to my parents it was something that should be a family activity.
I do remember being read to once I hit grade school. I would hold hands with Terence S. while Mrs. Gallari read to us in second grade. In fourth grade, Mrs. Shiels introduced us to Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Peter and Fudge (and Turtle) stories of Judy Blume. But other than that, I grew to hate being read to by other people, mostly because having someone read aloud to me took too long.
Now I’m listening to Call Me By Your Name as an audio book. I was skeptical that I would enjoy it as read by Armie Hammer as the younger man Elio, played by Timothee Chalamet in the film, is the novel’s narrator, while Hammer plays the graduate student Oliver. Still, somehow Hammer’s managed to convince me he’s Elio–his voice is somehow softer and younger as Elio than when he reads Oliver, which more closely matches how he speaks in the movie. He even manages to do alright reading the women’s voices, adopting just enough of a falsetto. And it doesn’t hurt that his voice is…. well, no one’s described his voice better than this Vulture piece (which you should definitely click through to).
While Armie’s voice is a definite draw, what I really love about having the novel read to me is the way it forces me to slow down, to luxuriate in every word of Aciman’s beautiful prose, discovering much that I missed the first time around. The way Elio has a tendency to plan his conversations in advance to achieve particular effects, the way he toggles between disdain and desire over the course of a single sentence. The humor that comes from a very young person flailing around trying to figure themselves out in a way we only seem to do when we are very young people.
I am thinking about possibly writing an essay about why I keep coming back to the novel and its various iterations. If I am truly to put more into this writing life, I need to openly embrace and examine and interrogate even those obsessions that aren’t poem-sized. So I’ve been thinking a lot about why this book, why these characters. And I’ve realized that I in an emotional sense am Elio, and reading about him I feel seen in a way I’ve never truly been seen. I think even those people who have seen my Elio-ness up close and personal would say they do not remember it the same way because, of course, at the time we were all caught up in our own versions of Elio-ness.
There’s something about listening to the book that even more than reading it—perhaps it’s something about distance, about the voices resonating not just in my head but vibrating in the very air around me—has made me more conscious of that deeply personal connection to the novel. It’s somewhat amazing to me that though I had a rich experience reading the novel, there is still so much I’ve missed, like this from Elio—“There they were, the legacy of youth, the twin mascots of my life, hunger and fear….”—which might as well double as my artist statement.