Friday, December 7, 2012

An Affair to Remember

I have a love affair with literature. It's ongoing and I can't seem to shake it. Sometimes, though, I have to ignore this passionate, vibrant, life-altering, truly absorbing secret life to drudge through the dull duties and unavoidable responsibilities of the grown-up life. But every once in a while, I give a furtive glance Literature's way; I find a quiet place for us to be alone; I steal a moment. So, Literature knows I'm devoted. Literature knows my true heart. And, when I become a bit despairing or despondent, Literature knows just how to remind me to keep caring.

Way back in 2008, Tim Kreider posted an article called "When Books Could Change Your Life" on the CityPaper website. It's a site I know nothing about and an author and article I never heard of until now. Social media dug it up for me, and I inhaled it.

It's an article about another lover of Literature (hey, I never said we were exactly exclusive). Kreider talks about how Literature gets you when you're young (...and maybe this sexually-charged metaphor has gone too far?) and never really leaves you after. His entire piece reflects the power of literature on youth and how it is those books that stay with you and mean more than anything you read after—regardless of how much more “adult” they become. He asks a series of probing questions, daring us to challenge him:
When was the last time a book changed your life? I don't mean offered you new insights or ideas or moved you--I mean profoundly changed the way you see the world or shaped the kind of person you are?

After reflecting on that, there was no disagreeing. Books have always meant a great deal to me and continues to do so, but I owe it all to those early years back when I really found myself inspired—not just by stories, but examples of how to live—and what living really is! Kreider goes on to say,
It's not that children's books are pure entertainment, innocent of any didactic goal--what grownups enviously call "Reading for Fun." On the contrary, the reading we do as children may be more serious than any reading we'll ever do again. Books for children and young people are unashamedly prescriptive: They're written, at least in part, to teach us what the world is like, how people are, and how we should behave.
And that’s something I agree with wholly. I’ve been working for a degree in English. (Which is basically just a degree in literature; it should be renamed “Reading really long and boring books and pretending to know what they’re about—I’m looking at you, Ulysses” But I don’t think that fit on the college banner head.) It’s lent me a sort of cynicism towards literature and the hoity-toity stance people take once they reach adulthood. No longer is it cool to gush about Little House on the Prairie or The Magic Tree House series. No. Now we have to pretend Frankenstein is the best book we’ve ever had or that we really do curl up with some Tolstoy every night. Hey, maybe some people do. Props to them. But, for me, the only reason I’m an English major is because of those books I read when I young. When I still cared. When I believed in magic and goodness and strength. They’re the books that made me feel powerful. That told me I never had to sell out. That promised my life, no matter how hard, could still be something wonderful. So what have books taught me? It’s pretty simple.

Books have taught me that every door leads somewhere new—whether it’s a wardrobe that takes you to Narnia or an open window from which you can fly to Neverland. Love isn’t always orthodox; sometimes it’s easier to love an animal. When it’s hard to say goodbye, that just means the moment, the person, the story meant more than any hello. It’s okay to make mistakes—even crazy mistakes—because the people who love you won’t care…even if you “draw” the drapes and “dress” the chicken one too many times. They taught me that nothing matters more than family, whether it’s the one you’re born into or the one you create. You can always find friends in the oddest of places. Even in the worst of situations, you can be optimistic—pay the “glad game.” It’s okay to believe in the unbelievable; that’s when the greatest adventures begin. Never hide your personality—it’s what makes you most unique. Sisters are best friends and life lessons waiting to be found out. You don’t have to be like everyone else to be loved by everyone else. Even if you’re the “chosen one” it doesn’t mean you can go it alone. When you lose everything, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on anything. Sometimes heroes aren’t the loud ones saving the day; it’s the ones who stay, the ones who care, the ones who stand by what they say. If fate seems to deal you an unfair hand, play a better game. It’s okay to cry. It’s better to laugh. No one can tell you who to care about; it’s just about falling for the right things at the right time and saying goodbye when it’s over. Evil doesn’t win. Even when it triumphs, it doesn’t win. Be curious; this world is meant to explore, question, wonder at. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a book is always an adventure waiting to happen. So let it.

And there you have it. The lessons learned in the pages of books I cared about just because I wanted to care about them, even before the world hogtied me down and told me to care--that I had to care--and took all the fun out of caring. Lame move, world. Good thing I've got these long-loved books to remind me about...well, everything.

Books to thank for this education (in no particular order): Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Pan, Pollyanna, Heidi, Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter, Little Women, Holes, Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, Where the Red Fern Grows, Esperanza Rising, Winnie the Pooh, A Little Princess, Amelia Bedelia, To Kill a Mockingbird.

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