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Nov
24
2014

Purple Fig Club: Dandelion Wine

I hate to push down the 2015 book selection post already, but it's time to discuss Dandelion Wine, so just know that we can continue the conversation about book choices in the previous post. I'll still be reading comments there!

But for now, we travel back in time and visit a small rural town where summer and childhood go hand in hand and make lots of wonderful memories. Join me, won't you?

My previous knowledge of Ray Bradbury's writings began and ended with Fahrenheit 451. Now, having read Dandelion Wine, I'm interested in reading the rest of his Green Town books (of which I think there are 3 more?).

The writing skill of this author is one I'm jealous of ... his ability to make you laugh, to feel like you're really seeing everything that's happening, to feel like it could be happening to you, even if your memories of childhood are different. A deep sense of nostalgia. If nothing else, it made me wish I were living Douglas' childhood right now. Such a wholesome and fresh perspective!

I loved all the people and stories in this book, from the old man who was a time machine to the young man & old woman who were in love but born at the wrong times for anything to ever happen between them. The locally traveling junkman who cured Douglas of his illness. The grandparents. All of them were so full of character.

Ice cream and porches on hot nights. Old arcade machines that cost a penny.

But my absolute favorite story from Douglas' summer of 1928 was one of the earliest in the book: the sneakers.

If I didn't think you'd kill me for making you re-read 5-10 minutes' worth of the book, I'd paste the entire excerpt here. But I won't do that. Suffice it to say that I read the entire bit aloud to Adam because I was enjoying it so much.

It was just the perfect distillation of a 12-year-old boy that I've ever read.

'Dad!' He blurted it out. 'Back there in that window, those Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Shoes ...' His father didn't even turn. 'Suppose you tell me why you need a new pair of sneakers. Can you do that?' 'Well ...' It was because they felt the way it feels every summer when you take off your shoes for the first time and run in the grass. They felt like it feels sticking your feet out of the hot covers in wintertime to let the cold wind from the open window blow on them suddenly and you let them stay out a long time until you pull them back under the covers again to feel them, like packed snow. The tennis shoes felt like it always feels the first time every year wading in the slow waters of the creek and seeing your feet below, half an inch further downstream, with refraction, than the real part of you above water. 'Dad,' said Douglas, 'it's hard to explain.'

And then the rest about him forcing the shoe salesman to try on the shoes in order to convince him to sell them to him is such a fantastic conversation. 

But in order to edit myself down a bit (because I could go on and on about all the parts I liked), I'll share a few of my favorite snippets with regard to a couple of Big Life Topics.

Aging

'It won't work,' Mr. Bentley continued, sipping his tea. 'No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you're nine, you think you've always been nine years old and will always be. When you're thirty, it seems you've always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You're in the present, you're trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen.'

Pain & Loss

Douglas raised the bottle of warm dandelion wine but did not set it on the shelf. He saw the other numbered bottles waiting there, one like another, in no way different, all bright, all regular, all self-contained. There's the day I found I was alive, he thought, and why isn't it brighter than the others? There's the day John Huff fell off the edge of the world, gone; why isn't it darker than the others?

I guess I just really enjoy books that hide wisdom within lightheartedness. It seems to be such an elusive skill, but I truly feel like Bradbury mastered it with this book. 

I'm somewhat apologetic over including more quotes than actual discussion points ... but I'm also not. Lol.

Because I'm going to end with one last quote, which felt like the entire metaphor behind the title:

'Boy,' said Tom, 'what a swell way to save June, July, and August. Real practical.' Grandfather looked up, considered this, and smiled. 'Better than putting things in the attic you never use again. This way, you get to live the summer over for a minute or two here or there along the way through the winter, and when the bottles are empty the summer's gone for good and no regrets and no sentimental trash lying about for you to stumble over forty years from now. Clean, smokeless, efficient, that's dandelion wine.'

Discussion Questions:

1. The ravine is described as wild, sometimes creeping further into the town, sometimes being pushed back by civilization. It's where the boys go to play, but it's also the place where the Lonely One was thought to prowl. What do you think it represents? Is it good, bad or neither? Etc.

2. Any thoughts on the topic of memory? It's said that children remember every little detail, but as we get older the days blur together. Yet the book is based on the author's memories as well. Does accuracy of memory matter?

3. Did the juxtaposition of the children to the older people spur any thoughts for you about how comparing one age to another helps you get a clearer understand of both ends of the spectrum?

Purple Fig Club: Dandelion Wine
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