Last night I was fortunate to attend the annual Christmas reading by Reynolds Price at Quail Ridge Books. Of course, he is wheel-chair bound from the spinal cord surgery 25 years ago that left him a quadriplegic, but when you hear his melodious and rich voice you lose all consciousness of his appearance or age.
He started with a Thomas Hardy poems about the manger scene and then gave some of the background before reading the text of the hymn “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” which he embellished with a brief account of his visit there in 1980. He and a friend walked from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to the Church of the Holy Nativity, and he described some of the scenes along the way.
His longer reading was from the proof of a new book “Ardent Spirits” that is to be published next spring by Scribner. He talks about his days as a graduate student at Oxford, the people he met there and, his impression of 1950’s England. His wry humor was enhanced when he departed from the reading to give us a personal aside. In response to a question during the following Q&A session, he stated that he wrote the book from memory even though the events had occurred more than 50 years earlier. If you have read his first memoir of his early childhood years, you may recall the astonishing details he recounts. I recall very little of my childhood even though I am two years younger than he is.
As I have observed when I have been in the presence of other great men, they have a quiet confidence that is devoid of ego but full of confidence and optimism. He certainly is no Pollyanna, but he does not project the bitterness that one might expect in his circumstances.
It was a very enjoyable evening.