The Mystery of the Cuckoo’s Nest

The other day I got a package in the mail. A small package, looking suspiciously like a paperback book wrapped in a manila envelope.

The address was hand-written, with everything spelled right. The first name was “Kathy” rather than “Kathleen,” which implied that the package came from someone in my family. Or at least someone who had known me before I started high school and began using my full name in an attempt to distinguish myself from the six other girls in my class named Kathy.

But the return address, in Seattle, was June somebody-or-other I had never heard of. True, I have cousins in Seattle. But none of them is named June, or has married a June, or even, as far as I know, has a girlfriend or a poodle or a parakeet named June.

On the back of the envelope was scrawled, “Thanks!” Inside, in excellent shape for its age, was a paperback copy of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There was no letter tucked inside, no name written on the first page, no sticky note on the cover with a scribbled note saying, “I found this in a box of books in the garage and remembered that I borrowed it from you in 1970 when we were both in Dr. Weinkauf’s Contemporary Lit class. Sorry it took so long to return it.”

Besides, I didn’t go to college with anyone named June. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone named June. Some 20 years ago, I worked for someone who knew June Carter Cash, which was a remote connection even then.

Maybe, I thought, this was a sign that I should suggest Cuckoo’s Nest for the book discussion at our family reunion this summer. We’ve decided to read and discuss two books, one classic and one contemporary. And the reunion—this can’t be a coincidence—is in June. Obviously, the Universe was sending me a message.

But before I got around to passing that message on to the rest of the family through an email, one arrived from my niece. Sara, by virtue of taking the initiative to suggest several book titles, had been unanimously chosen by the rest of the family to pick out two books for our discussion, and this email announced her choices.

One of them, even though it hadn’t been on her original list, was Cuckoo’s Nest. Add in the wonders of Internet shopping thanks to Amazon.com’s used-book department, and my mystery was solved. So much for signs from the Universe.

But, whether the choice came from the Universe or from Sara, it was a good one. Based on previous emails, I thought the classic book was going to be The Great Gatsby. I wasn’t especially looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with all those selfish, obnoxious characters.

So, thanks, Sara, both for choosing the books and for going to all the trouble to order them for us. I just have one small complaint. How can Cuckoo’s Nest be a “classic” book? It was practically new when I first read it in college, and obviously that was only a few years ago.

Books by Charles Dickens are classics, certainly. Or by Jane Austin. Or Mark Twain. Even Faulkner and Hemingway. But those authors all have one thing in common. They wrote their “classic” books well before I was born.

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