30 April 2009

Rereading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler

This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid growing up in New York City. E.L. Konigsburg tells the story of two suburban children who run away from home; their chosen refuge is the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As a child I took arts and crafts classes on Saturdays at the Met, and I judged it the most beautiful place in the world. The idea of living there just completely enchanted me. A home to get lost in! (As opposed to the snug 2-BR, 1-BA apartment I shared with my parents and older brother.) I still have a fondness for sprawling residences, with counterintuitive floorplans, expanses that seem to go on forever, and/or limited sightlines, so you can't quite tell where the next turn will take you.

So the book was a treasure to me when I first found it, and when I recently saw it still in print, I decided to get two copies: one for my niece in Washington Heights, and one for me.

Rereading it was more about remembering pleasure than experiencing it fresh. Of course I noticed the many discrepancies: the Met is no longer free (even when I first read the book, there was a suggested donation, as there is today), the restaurant has moved, and I believe security has been much enhanced. There is no Automat nearby (I'm not sure there was even when I was going there, in the mid-70s) and prices have increased significantly, for everything from bus rides to meals.

But the yearnings, enthusiasms, and achievements described still feel true, and I imagine my niece will have as good a time with it as I did.

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