Below is the first paragraph of Salinger's "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls". I wonder what to turn things over his fingers means in this context? I imagine the little boy juggling things, but I don't have a clear scene in my mind (why would one need to roll forward to juggle?).

His shoes turned up. My mother used to tell my father that he was buying Kenneth’s shoes too large for him, or to please ask somebody if his feet were deformed. But I think his shoes turned up because he was always stopping on the grass, rolling his seventy-five or eighty pounds forward to look at things, to turn things over his fingers. Even his moccasins turned up.

  • I thought getting more context would help me to know the answer.
    – Argot
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 12:20
  • Apart from this whole paragraph, there is no mention of the deformed shoes in the story. But, you can find the whole story here .
    – some user
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 12:24
  • The 'things' that happen to be 'over' his fingers (toes?) were the top-cap part of the shoes. Every time you stop (suddenly), you throw your entire weight forward. The weight shifts from heel to toe. The foot inclines in such a way that the toes stay horizontal while the rest of the foot is at an angle -- heels at the highest from the ground. The front of the shoe suffers a curl. With repeated use, the shoes become permanently 'turned up'. It happens to me all the time.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 13:41
  • @Kris, quite a reasonable explanation. But, in that case wouldn't it be "to turn the things over his fingers"? I feel, 'to look at things' and 'to turn things over his fingers' are two things he does when he leans forward.
    – some user
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 13:50
  • Indeed, even I thought both the instances of 'things' associated with the same objects (the things 'looked at' are the same things that are 'turned'), but then may not be. Or, could it be that he was looking at clods and such on the ground and turning them over with the front of the shoe? In that case, it's usually only one of the shoes (same every time, by habit), not both.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 14:08

1 Answer 1


I would assume "turning things over his fingers" means "feeling them". My guess is that Salinger didn't say "turning them over in his fingers", which would be a more common way of saying it, because he wanted to emphasize that his fingers were experiencing the things tactilely.

His shoes turn up because he keeps stopping when he sees something interesting on the ground, and then squatting down and leaning forward on his toes to look at it closely and feel it.

  • Interesting point. So, how do we relate this to shoes turning up? Was he trying to reach at high things on his toes and then feel/examine them with his fingers?
    – some user
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 15:50
  • @canpolat: I revised my answer to address your comment. Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 15:53

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