Winesburg revisited

Alene and I have a soft spot for Ohio. It’s a long story that we keep to ourselves. Neither of us has lived there. And we don’t follow college sports — although it was a lot of fun when Alene had a boss who is a devoted (maniacal) Buckeyes fan. And, being from England, we never encountered Sherwood Anderson in school.

We discovered Winesburg, Ohio by sheer accident. Alene was browsing the Librivox archive at iTunes and found a podcasted edition of it. We decided to give it a listen just because it was about Ohio. It was August 2011 and Alene had a morning routine not unlike the one she has now — although this was two jobs ago. She had her morning coffee at the Starbucks headquarters in SODO, sitting on the patio outside and enjoying a podcast while watching Starbucks employees arriving for work. Somehow, it seemed the perfect setting in which to discover the people of Winesburg. After a few episodes, she knew she had to read the book and bought a collection of Sherwood Anderson for her Nook.

Last year, she bought a new iPhone and downloaded a few free titles from iBooks so that she might always have something to read if she found herself killing time when not in the mood to browse the web or play games. As Sherwood Anderson was listed under “A”, she came across Winesburg right away. (She also has Pointed Roofs by Dorothy Richardson, which she has yet to be bored enough to finish, and a collection of short stories by Chekov.)

For much of the last year, Alene has been having morning coffee at a place with flaky WiFi. I suggested that rather than wasting cellular data on mindless web-browsing, she could use this time to read. Most of the time she reads library downloads in Overdrive — but one morning a couple of months ago, she had nothing to read and decided to revisit Winesburg — and we’ve been dipping into it, one or two chapters at a time, ever since.

When we got to the end of Winesburg the first time, four years ago, we experienced profound sorrow — confounded by the fact that it came by surprise. The electronic edition Alene had bought was very cheap, with no formal index — so we had no idea at what page the novel would end. Even though the final chapter does have George Willard leaving Winesburg by train to head out into the world, we somehow did not recognize it as the end of the novel — hence the surprise — and disappointment. We just wanted to hear more.

This time, we experienced the end of Winesburg rather differently. Alene was sitting in the shade outside her apartment enjoying an iced beverage as the sun went down over the Olympic Mountains. I was lying on my bunk with my eyes closed, half-reading the words on her iPhone screen, but mainly allowing her inner voice to read to me.

Elizabeth Willard’s death and that last walk taken by George Willard and Helen White brought us closer than we have been in a long time. We could expound on that in detail — but Alene doesn’t feel like writing an essay. Besides, she’s rather enjoying watching the proceedings at the yard sale across the street. Now that the sun has moved around, the sale area is in shade and people are lingering a while. Ah! And the mailman just delivered a package!

I’ll bet everyone who’s ever read Winesburg, Ohio has some idea in mind for the sequel — and no two versions would be the same — and not one ever by the last word on the place called Winesburg.

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