Mother has always loved to read more than anything else. That’s not surprising since she is the daughter of Max Perkins, the book editor who published Hemingway and Wolfe and Fitzgerald. He said, “Nothing is as important as abook can be.” About ten years ago, Mother’s eyes began to fail from macular degeneration. It was the thing she was most afraid of. She was eighty-six. She tried to keep reading with all kinds of complicated magnifying glasses, but the day came when she couldn’t read at all any more. You never go completely blind with macular degeneration, but it’s a cruel disease, because you can only see out of the edges of your eyes. In the center what you see is a gray film. So you can’t see anything you really want to see, only a glimpse of what’s off to the side, in other words, what you aren’t really interested in looking at.
Mother listened to audio books, but about six years ago I began to read to her over the telephone every afternoon for an hour. Both of us love it. We have read hundreds of books together, all her old favorites, War And Peace, my novels, lots of memoirs and histories. We have read all of Thor Hyerdahl’s books several times. She says she likes to hear about people doing adventurous things because she knows she isn’t going to have any more adventures. Once we got interested in the Mississippi River and read Mark Twain and everything else we could find about the river.
Sometimes we stop and talk about what we are reading. Sometimes when we are reading one of her old favorites, she will say the next sentences before I can read them to her. Sometimes she makes surprising comments. We read Alice In Wonderland and then Through The Looking Glass. She said, “Looking Glass isn’t nearly as good as Wonderland. He was trying to do the same thing over again. It’s forced.” Well, she’s Max Perkins’ daughter, after all. Now at ninety-six, her memory isn’t as good as it was. But she doesn’t forget the books she has always loved so much.