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Tuesday, May 21

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This month the Gapers Block Book Club is reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Here's an introduction from Veronica Bond.

I didn't fall in love with Dandelion Wine the first time I read it. I didn't fall in love the second time, either. It wasn't until I was in my twenties and out of college, when I returned to the book a third time, that I finally understood what it was all about. With the pages yellowed and the spine broken from a careless older brother who had first turned these pages for our consecutive years in freshman English, that intervening span allowed me to perceive the depth and beauty of this book, and each time that I've opened it since, I am again in awe of this amazing and simple story.

Dandelion Wine follows two brothers, Douglas and Tom Spaulding, through one summer of their lives. This is mostly Douglas's story, as he stands on the brink of adolescence and finds his childhood slowly torn away from him. It is a coming of age story, but it's far less grand than the usual stories of sexuality, debauchery and tragedy that fill the genre. It's much simpler than that, focusing instead on the smaller instances that separate children from adults and the moments when Douglas realizes with surprise what side of that line he's standing on. He's confronted with the pursuit and loss of happiness, the despair of mismatched and unrequited love, and the realization that the world and the people around him are not always safe. There's death, crime and sadness that a pair of new sneakers can't take away. Young people grow old. Things you once depended on fail you. People fail you. And at some point everything comes to an end.

Bradbury has a gift for invoking all of the senses in his writing, but in this book more than his others, that gift is prominent. We hear the sounds in Douglas's ears, smell the scents around him, taste the rich flavor of the wine. We're completely immersed in this world of 1928 Green Town, Illinois — a fictional account of Bradbury's own Waukegan home — and the work is entirely seamless. That the author uses a common weed to capture each of the summer days displays his flair for coloring the ordinary with the extraordinary, a tactic that is effortlessly symbolic of the transition to adulthood:

"And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the Dandelion Wine. Peer through it at the wintry day — the snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabitated with bird, leaf, and blossoms like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind. And peering through, color sky from iron to blue. Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in."

When I was 12 and reading this book for the first time, there wasn't a whole lot that stood out. I enjoyed it enough to reread it, but it wasn't until I moved away from home, that I had people and places to miss and had moments when I wished I could be a child again, that I knew what Bradbury was writing about. It's the end of a time when everything feels perfect and the beginning of a time when you know it never was and never will be. It's not surprising that Bradbury culled from his own memories to create Douglas's story, as he writes in his 1974 introduction: "Dandelion Wine is nothing if it is not the boy-hid-in-the-man playing in the fields of the Lord on the green grass of other Augusts in the midst of starting to grow up, grow old, and sense darkness waiting under the trees to seed the blood." Dandelion Wine is a good book to read when you're 12. It's excellent when you're 22. I'm sure that each passing decade will not cause these pages to fade.

I fear that I'll never be able to adequately explain my love for this book. Like summer, like childhood, it just is.

~*~

Join the Gapers Block Book Club! Just sign up for the email list for news, announcements and more. This month we are reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. We will be meeting to discuss the book on Monday, September 12, at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. The meeting will begin at 7:30pm.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . Due to the volume of email received, she may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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