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Dandelion Wine

GAYS MILLS - I just finished a book that I started about 20 years ago. No, I don’t read that slowly and the book wasn’t that big. A student had given me a copy of the book in the late 90s; I started it, set it aside, and just didn’t get back to it.  But I remembered enough of it to know that I wanted to finish it…someday.

How I got back to that someday is a convoluted story.  I picked up a new book in the library called ‘Full Throttle’ by a Joe Hill. Joe Hill is the pen name of the son of the well-known author Steven King and young Joe wanted to make it on his own as a writer instead of trading on his famous father’s name. Hill writes twisted and scary stories like his dad does that are real page turners. His book is a series of stories and they are all good, and all frighteningly ‘out there.’

In the introduction of ‘Full Throttle,’ Hill explains how he became the successful writer that he is. He mentions two books that were very important in his development as a writer of fiction: ‘Telling Lies For Fun and Profit’ (love that title) by Lawrence Block and ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ by Ray Bradbury. (I now own both of those books).  In the Zen book, Bradbury referred to his 1957 novel ‘Dandelion Wine’ and I decided to finally read it.

Much of Bradbury’s lengthy body of work is in the science fiction and fantasy genres, categories which have never tripped my trigger. ‘Dandelion Wine,’ however, was his semi-biographical recollection of growing up in a small Midwestern town in the summer of 1928. I enjoyed it immensely. 

The main character in the book is 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding. The story takes place in Green Town, Illinois, a stand-in for Waukegan, where Bradbury grew up. The book is peopled by Douglas and his extended family, his boyhood pals, as well as several colorful residents of the town.

This was a great book to read at this time of year as our seasons change. It was full of warm weather, thunderstorms, lightening bugs, freshly mowed grass, and many boyhood adventures. But the intersects with the adults around Douglas are what added meaning and texture to this coming-of-age story.

‘Dandelion Wine’ serves as an apt metaphor for summer. Douglas and his younger brother help their grandfather by picking thousands of dandelions that go into his basement to be made into wine. In Douglas’s words: “Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue.  The wine was summer caught and stoppered.” By the end of summer, there were a hundred ketchup bottles of dandelion wine stored in grandfather’s Prohibition-era basement.

You can’t help but travel back in time while reading this book. Not to the late 1920s but to the time when you were 12 and poised to bridge the gap from childhood to being an adult. I recommend it to you very highly.