Lately I’ve been searching for the title of a particular book. It’s a fish-out-of-water story about a family who moves from (I think) Manhattan to a small town in New England, where they struggle to acclimate to life away from the big city. The style is humorous, with occasional moments of drama and poignancy. I believe the title has something to do with crickets, but I could be wrong about that.
I read the book when I was about 16, and I’ve wanted to re-read it for a while now. The problem is that I can’t find the damned thing. I have no idea who the author might be, and my attempts to conjure up the title via Google have been pathetic. (Try Googling various combinations of book+Manhattan+New England+humor+crickets. You’ll get plenty of search results, but none of them have anything to do with the book I’m struggling to identify.)
On a whim, I just tried the same keywords on Bing, with no better results. Although Bing did come up with an entertaining Huffington Post article about students who got caught releasing hundreds of crickets in the halls of their Pennsylvania high school. A nice five minute diversion, but it got me no closer to my goal.
It’s not Google’s fault, or even Bing’s fault that I can’t find the book. It’s my fault for typing in crappy keywords. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything better to offer. Those are the best clues I’ve been able to come up with.
Until about a year ago, I had a better search engine for half-forgotten books. One that could summon up titles and author names from the most tenuous of hints. One that knew how to ask intelligent questions to help me zero in on my literary quarry.
It was my mom.
One phone call to my female parental unit could solve nearly any book-related puzzle.
“Hey Mom, remember the paperback you loaned me, about the convent that inherits an abandoned house from a mobster?”
“Let’s see… That would be The Nun in the Closet, by Dorothy Gilman.”
“Mom, what was the title of that book about the two Renaissance-era ghosts who pretend to be actors, and play themselves in a biographical movie about their own (past) lives?”
“Hmmm… I think that’s The Far Traveller, by Manning Coles. Or maybe it was Coles Manning. One or the other… Either Coles Manning, or Manning Coles.”
I can’t count the number of times I called Mom to ask a question about a particular book, and she nearly always had the answer. That woman knew books. Her memory was a bit iffy on subjects like basic cooking, phone numbers, and where she parked her car. But ask a question about fiction, and she was a superstar. She could remember author names, story lines, titles, and all the fiddling little plot twists that most of us forget. She was a walking card catalog. (If you don’t know what that means, go look it up.)
Mom and I were light years apart on politics, childrearing, and a hundred other topics. But we were in sync when it came to books. She didn’t just love them. She was obsessed by them. And she managed to pass that lifelong obsession on to me. We could both talk for about books for hours, and we frequently did.
I loved the literary search engine hidden inside of my mother’s head. It was always there when I wanted it, just a phone call away, and most of those of those calls led to delightfully rambling conversations about reading, writing, and the nature of storytelling.
But all of that is gone now. Or rather, my mom is gone, and that wonderful library of memories is gone with her.
Even now, a year after her passing, I find myself forgetting that the number stored in my phone’s speed dialer doesn’t belong to her anymore. If I hit the call key, the person who answers won’t know anything at all about the pirate adventure story I read in eighth grade. The new owner of Mom’s phone number won’t remember the book about the fish-out-of-water family that moves to New England.
So I make do with Google as best I can, even when I don’t remember enough about an old book to summon up a decent set of search terms. And I try very hard not to think about the incredible resource that’s suddenly missing from my life.