One of the best memoirs I’ve read! Woodson lays bare her childhood, her dreams, her soul and she does so freely, for the world to see and read. Such an inspiration for any budding scribbler who longs to hear those magic words: “You’re a writer.”
Woodson touched my heart repeatedly, from the first time she saw the possibility of people like her in books (Stevie by John Steptoe) to the relationship with her Daddy to her recollection of going from home to home, to the revolution. Over and over I was moved by the simplest memories that had such lasting effects. I even cried when, in the Author’s Note, she mentioned Maria, her Forever Friend.
I’ll admit, though, selfishly, I wanted to know more: why her parents split, why her father stayed away so long, who was Roman’s father, what happened to the boy with the hole in his heart (did he ever get to go to NYC?!), what was her life like as a teenager / high schooler in NYC, did she ever join protests, and on and on.
But I don’t think I would have cared as much to ask those questions if every single one of her poems, her memories, hadn’t wrapped around my heart like they did.
“Over time, a bookshop will take the shape of its owner. Emily had been at the Green Man so long that it had grown around her like a second skin. The books were her flesh; the words that flowed through them were the blood that ran through her veins. The poetry section was the beating heart of the collection.”
If the above passage speaks to you, then you’re probably the right reader for this book. It doesn’t matter your age, if you feel more at home in a secondhand bookstore than at your actual house, you’ll settle into this book’s atmosphere like a cat into a pile of freshly laundered clothes. If the idea that poets are all “crazy people” with a special perspective of our world (and maybe even other worlds), add this book pronto.
For me, The Green Man was to poetry as Among Others was to science fiction. Both held their respective forms high on a pedestal and showered the reader in various works and authors’ names – some well-known, others obscure – implanting a subliminal urge to read everything mentioned. Both featured a young adult’s quest to find herself. Both dipped their pinky toes into otherworldly goings on but, for the most part, remained fixed on the surface of our reality.
What I really loved about The Green Man – other than the obvious: books, a cat named Psycho, a bakery across the street from a bookshop, ghosts of poets hanging around the shop – was Emily’s ideas about time. (I love all things timey-wimey.) I wonder if the ghosts were an example of that opened door?
One nitpick, had I realized this was a continuation of the mystery and characters introduced in Bedard’s first novel, A Darker Magic, I most certainly would have obtained a copy to read prior to this book. However, having read The Green Man first, I don’t feel like I missed anything. Quite the opposite, now I absolutely MUST find a copy of A Darker Magic.
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were–I have not seen
As others saw–I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I lov’d, I lov’d alone.
Then–in my childhood–in the dawn
Of a most stormy life–was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold–
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by–
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
I think I connect with this poem because so many of us blame our childhoods for who we are or why we turned out this way. Personally, I think we choose to be the people we are. Yes, our environment can shape our views of the world, but we can choose to re-shape those views into different ones.
On an emotional level, this poem resonates with me because I feel utterly alone when I read it. For me, it takes me to those darks moments, in childhood and adulthood, when I felt as if no one would ever get me. Those lonely times when I felt like I was weird and dark and scary for the visions I’d see, for the words I’d write, for the thoughts I’d think.
That’s the gift of a great writer–having the ability to transport the reader to the exact place you were at when you wrote your piece. I aspire to that sort of greatness.