I finished The California Feeling sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk outside our house while Gene changed the oil on his bike. I felt cliched all over again: lolling around on the filthy city ground, happy as a hippie in the sun and shit. (I mean, I hope not shit. But not everyone is thorough about picking up after their dogs around here.) The California feeling is all about the here and now, provided the here and now is sunny. You can’t worry about what you may or may not be sitting in.
There is just nothing sexier than watching a boy work on a bike, and that goes double for me. One of my top three favorite books of all time is The Changeover. (The other two, if you wonder, are probably Pride and Prejudice and Hamlet.) In The Changeover, there’s a scene where the heroine sits on the front steps and drinks coffee while her fella fixes his bike. I read this book at an early age and have read it probably twenty times since then, and I confess it influenced my tastes more than a little. (This doesn’t go for all my favorites, though. If Gene busted out some ballroom dance moves, or showed up with his stockings fouled, ungartered and down-gyved to his ankle, I would not be so impressed.)
What I love most about The Changeover is the way the heroine wakes up to the world throughout the book. Everything develops identity and importance, even telegraph poles and toasters, but not in an irritating way. (See Tom Robbin’s otherwise excellent Skinny Legs and All to see how inanimate objects can become really obnoxious.)
Every telegraph pole stood centred on a single leg gathering wires up, looping them over little stunted arms, and Laura felt her way into being a telegraph pole, or a roof rising to a ridge and butting against itself. The Baptist church squared its concrete shoulders, its doorway touching its own toes, carrying a great weight of square, white blocks on its bent back.
You might like The Changeover if you like the straightforward narrator and tingly first love in I Capture The Castle, the pleasant, sensory world of The Magician’s Assistant, or the sideways poetry-prose of the better Alice Hoffman novels.
And a brief warning: almost every edition of The Changeover is cursed with a terrible cover. Don’t be fooled by it. It is your protection against people borrowing what will come to be one of your favorite reads; my own copy has a worse cover than most, which is the only way I’ve been able to hang onto it for fifteen years.