BETTY STEIN: By the way

So my daughter and I were sitting in the examining room, waiting for the doctor to appear. As he entered, he said, “Now before you tell me how you are, I have a question for you from my wife and daughters. They want to know what your favorite book is.” I smiled at him, then turned to my daughter.

“I think she’ll say, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ my daughter said. ‘Right, Ma?’ “

“Right,” I responded, “That’s one of two. What a wonderful character Atticus is! The other is ‘The Forsyte Saga,’ written by John Galsworthy. I first read it when I was in college and when John Galsworthy was a well-known, well-respected British author. I fell in love with the Forsyte family then and haven’t changed my mind since.”

There were blank faces surrounding me. Apparently no one knew the book or author. And that’s the way it is in November of 2017. By the way, it was made into a television series some years ago — on PBS, I think, so maybe one or two of you remember the Forsytes.

They were people of property, very important to that upper middle class generation. And it was a large family, and we got to know all members well ֫– their likes, their dislikes, their idiosyncrasies, even their spending habits — all except one. There is one character, Irene, whom we know only through other people’s views of her. We never hear her voice an opinion or a random thought. We see her only through other characters’ eyes. Interesting, isn’t it?

Well, the Forsyte Saga is really three novels and two interludes. One of the interludes had quite an effect on me because it was written so well and so lovingly, I hated to say “goodbye.”

A couple of days later I was sitting in a waiting room ready to read the eye chart to see if I needed a new prescription, and a quick glance at the other people sitting there recognized they were all fooling with their phones. I had been thinking about Soames Forsyte, for whom I felt sorry but didn’t particularly like, and I asked the two women sitting there with the phones, “Did you ever read a book in which you didn’t like the protagonist?” One of the two thought for a minute or two and then said, “No, I don’t think so.” The other was more talkative and began naming characters she had really liked but could think of none she didn’t like. I mentioned Quasimodo but that only evoked knowing nods. Well, Friend Reader, I am asking you: Have you ever read a book in which there was a protagonist you didn’t like? Did you keep on reading or did you put the book down? Maybe you’ll now want to avoid me in a waiting room situation because I’m apt to break the silence and ask you a “thinking question.” However, in my defense, I want you to know one of the women thanked me for making her think. How about you?

And you might give “The Forsyte Saga” a try.