12th birthday gift for my nephew

Not many of these blog entries receive hits from the world wide web but one that occasionally does is my blog about what I got my niece for her thirteenth birthday, found here:


If people are looking for gift ideas, I don’t know if they found that helpful or not. I suppose not, if they were looking for something traditional. My sisters’ kids are getting old enough where they’re probably growing aware, if they aren’t already, that their uncle, with his gifts of books he wrote and his letters, is eccentric. Hopefully they’ll think that’s a good thing. It’s sincere, since I’ve never made an effort to be eccentric. At least not a conscious effort.

Here is what I got my nephew: Snapshot_20150531

I bought him Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace but taped it up so that all he can access, easily at least, is “Forever Overhead,” which I shared with him is my favorite short story. As I always do, as I also do with the books I wrote, I offered it to him as something he might want to read and might enjoy. Then I told him some of my favorite parts, which he could read before he read the story or save for after.

I’ll make the same offer to anyone reading this, you can read my favorite parts before or after. Because my first exposure to “Forever Overhead” was listening to it read by the author, I’m still partial to that. What can I say, it spoke to me. Keep in mind, it’s twenty-five minutes to listen to, buy you might enjoy every second, as I did. I can’t tell you why I think it’s so good, because I don’t really know. I describe it, in the letter to my nephew, as a story about a boy, thirteen, who goes to the pool on his birthday and climbs the high board. He looks around and thinks.

Here is the full story, read by the author, on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiuz2L6Aqdc

I suppose if I could say just one thing about it, I would say that it’s precise. I just love the sentences. Here were some of the favorites I picked out and shared with my nephew in the letter accompanying the book. Not in order, except that they fell into a kind of order as I picked them out.

“Each rung presses into the bottoms of your feet and dents them. The dents feel deep and they hurt. You feel heavy. How the big woman over you must feel.”

“The pool rules say one on the ladder at a time, but the guard never shouts about it. The guard makes the real rules by shouting or not shouting.”

“Your family likes you. You are bright and quiet, respectful to elders–though you are not without spine. You are largely good. You look out for your little sister. You are her ally.”

“Listen. It does not seem good, the way she disappears into a time that passes before she sounds. Like a stone down a well. But you think she did not think so. She was part of a rhythm that excludes thinking. And now you have made yourself part of it, too.”

“The rungs hurt your feet. They are thin and let you know just how much you weigh. You have real weight on the ladder. The ground wants you back.”

“Now that you’re overhead you can see the whole thing.”

“He says it behind you, his eyes on your ankles, the solid bald man, Hey kid. They want to know. Do your plans up here involve the whole day or what exactly is the story. Hey kid are you okay.”

“Happy birthday.”

For me, “Forever Overhead” is one of those stories that makes me think, as a writer, that I will never as long as I live write anything that good but I enjoy reading it so much that I don’t care. Which is a feeling writers love. Hopefully my nephew will read it and enjoy it, but I’ve gotten into the habit of not following up. I like the idea of the books I send them, including the ones I wrote, to just sit in their bookshelves for them to find when the mood strikes. That way reading it will be their own experience, and then if they want to share that they read it with me, they can.


One thought on “12th birthday gift for my nephew

  1. Pingback: Infinite Jest: Brilliant and Hilarious, Tedious and Self-Indulgent. Five Stars | Greg Metcalf

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