I had a true "Dewey Decimalist" moment while at the public library the other day. I found myself wandering the stacks, and stumbled upon the 818 section. Here, I found lots of old looking somewhat encrusted books, but with very fabulous titles such as Onions in the Stew, My Sister Eileen, Oranges, and, Life Among the Savages. I wasn't sure what the common thread was (memoirs? light reportage?), so when I went home I found out that 818 refers to the quite general "American miscellaneous writings in English." It is very rare for me to pluck books off the shelf with reckless abandon, having no idea what these titles might contain, but I quickly perused them and they all looked like gems. In just a few hours, I polished off My Sister Eileen, by Ruth McKenney. Come to find out, McKenney had a fascinating life. Raised in Ohio and a precocious student (French, debate team, etc.), she was a tomboy with a sardonic wit to boot. She studied journalism in college and wrote for the student newspaper, the Ohio State Lantern. She survived one suicide attempt, and eventually moved to a moldy apartment in Greenwich Village with her sister Eileen. Their real-life experiences were featured in a series of essays published in The New Yorker. Anthologized in My Sister Eileen, they are highly readable and entertaining, with essay titles such as "No Tears, No Good," "A Loud Sneer for Our Feathered Friends," and "Mr. Spitzer and the Fungus." Here are a few lines from "The Prince:"
He was handsome enough, if you like that dark, beady type. Personally, one Georgian prince was enough for me....even Eileen, the belle of the Midwest, hadn't been able to gather in, during her heart-smashing career, so much as a Belgian count.
So, having told one whopper, I went on, as is my unhappy custom, and told several more.