Windsor: Black Moss Press, 2010.
This memoir, the ninth in the Settlements series of short Canadian memoirs being published by Black Moss Press, is a love letter to language and books, a tribute for the home they have given its author. It is also peppered with poignant reminders that bookish children not only find a home in books, but are often painfully out of place among their peers. Meyer describes how his voracious appetite for books not only alienated him from the other kids, but made him a target for teachers who bullied the boy who was bored by their classes. It gave me a knot in my stomach to think of such isolation.
They had two racks that were not the usual pulp fiction in the store: a free-standing swivel display of New Canadian Library Classics that included Laurence’s The Stone Angel, Wiseman’s The Sacrifice, and anthologies edited by the University of Toronto professor Milton Wilson…. I became enamoured with the poetry of Layton, Birney, and Purdy, and determined that I would meet them and talk to them about my own work—and learn from them, if I could. The other display was a slanted series of short shelves that contained the Signet Classic Editions of the plays of Shakespeare. Some of the kids in my neighbourhood would hang around the plaza, smoke, and buy drugs. My fix was found in that card and gift shop, in the back corner, where no one from my generation ever seemed to go except me. (80)
“No one from my generation”: this phrase somehow encapsulated for me the palpable loneliness of the boy lost in books, even if they have their compensatory pleasures.
The title of the book is its controlling metaphor. The alphabet table is the dinner tray Meyer had as a child that clipped to his chair with the letters of the alphabet and representative animals parading around it. He takes that wonderfully concrete introduction to letters from earliest memory and plays with its metaphorical possibilities:
Language and all the things that words can do have always been a table set before me—some days I refer to it as my work bench, but it is really a table, a banquet, where I can feast not only on the sound of the words but their role, their meaning and their vanity. As I sit at my desk in front of a computer screen and the characters appear before me, I realize that my alphabet table, my word feast, has been a process of evolution that will keep growing and changing and feeding me for as long as I live. Few poets can earn a living from their poetry; but every poet I know lives off language and is sustained by it. (25)
I refer often to books as food for my soul, and the gustatory metaphor and the image of the word feast resonates with my own sense that we nourish ourselves with words.