Last year my sister Terry gave me a little grey book, “As You Were”, that had belonged to our father. He occasionally read from it to us and our sister, Eileen, when we were kids – poems like “Little Boy Blue” and stories like “Uncle Remus and the Tar Baby”. Now I look at it with new eyes and see what a gem it is; and this month we celebrate it at Parson’s Nose.
“As You Were” was put together by the renowned New York Times critic and iconoclast Alexander Woollcott in 1943. Woollcott himself had been a journalist in World War I and had observed that the MPs never bothered a soldier carrying a book, considering him harmless, so he assembled this small tome – a “portable library” – for protection.
But what a work it is – a compendium in which each entry, somehow, is as stellar as the next. A young man or woman, far from home, would find much comfort in these American classics, reminding them of where they had come from, and to where they would return.
In a hilarious and poignant chapter from “Huck Finn” by Mark Twain we meet those two blackguards “The Duke” and “The Dauphin”. In “The Waltz” by Dorothy Parker we hear the tortured inner conversation of a girl struggling through a dance, and in O Henry’s “The Skylight Room” we hear the tale of a young girl struggling to survive in a heartless city. And Kathrine Kressman Taylor’s 1938 classic “Address Unknown” gives a chilling correspondence between two erstwhile friends, one in San Francisco, one in Munich, as Adolph Hitler comes to power.
Interspersed we have poems by Longfellow and Frost and Nash, and the clear and defiant words of our “Declaration of Independence”, perhaps the most revolutionary and incendiary document in our history.
“As You Were” contains a treasure trove of material, too much for just one evening. But let’s take a look and give a listen, and if you enjoy it as much as I do perhaps we can create a new and compelling evening of classic work for the future.
And be sure to tell your friends about our work, and bring a book for a member of our armed services. The tradition goes on. – ld