Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stories to Escape Into

I’m getting ready to read The Sky is Everywhere and I can’t wait. Everyone seems to love it and from what I’ve heard it’s a storyline about extremes or, rather, of balanced contradiction: love and sorrow, hope and fear, a longing to remember and to forget all told in a beautiful and poetic voice.

That description triggered something in me and immediately I was recalling a trip to the local library with my mother when I was 14. She wanted to pick up a book. While I waited for her to find it, I roamed the aisles of the fiction section. By chance I picked up The Bridges of Madison County. Not exactly a YA book but I checked it out nevertheless. I devoured it and even today I remember it as my first love affair. What I remember most is escaping so fully into the story, feeling so wholly the emotions of the characters.

So while I waited for The Sky is Everywhere to arrive, I roamed the fiction section of the library near my new home and there, right at eyelevel, it was: The Bridges of Madison County. I immediately checked it out, curious more than anything if it would be what I remembered because sometimes memories can be deceiving and, well, it’s been a while and I have many more reads under my belt from which to compare it to.

The first few pages in I wasn’t so sure but by the last I was choking back tears on the metro. The words are themselves poetry, the descriptions full of detail, the characters believable. More than anything this book reminded me why I fell in love with writing—and reading—in the first place. It’s the ability, the power, really, of words to transport us whether it’s to another world or to Iowa, whether we have a special talent or we’re a farmer’s wife. But it’s not just the ability to escape, it’s the fact that when done so well, a great read can make us feel something amazing; it can make us feel alive, hopeful, in love. It can make us cry on a dirty, loud metro train because we’re not really here in Washington, DC but at Roseman Bridge where Francesca Johnson’s ashes are spread and at last she’s at peace and together again with Robert Kincaid, perhaps not in life but forever thereafter.

So tell me, what books have changed your life, made another world come alive, or made you believe that these aren't just characters on a page but as real as anything else you know?


  1. There are few that come to mind right away like the Harry Potter and the Jason Bourne series. The crazy genius of Clive Barker in Everville and The Great and Secrete Show (two of my all time favorites) come to mind as well. Barker paints such a vivid picture of an alternative reality – I have no idea how he does it. Everville and The Great and Secrete Show start on the Oregon Trail in the 1800’s but the book takes place current day in parallel worlds. One word: unbelievable.

    While these are some of my favorite authors and books – they have not changed my life (maybe my perspective). Being a hopeless romantic, the stories that I find most appealing and commit me emotionally to the characters are love stories. There are two types of love stories: stories about falling in love and stories about being in love. While Nicholas Sparks has written many books about falling in love, The Notebook is the first and only book he has written details both falling and being in love. This quote captures the essence of the competing love stories in the book:

    "I am nothing special; just a common man with common thoughts, and I've led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten. But in one respect I have succeeded as gloriously as anyone who's ever lived: I've loved another with all my heart and soul; and to me, this has always been enough."

    The book changed my life because it makes you realize that the amount of time we have on Earth to spend together, especially with the ones you love, is very short. When you find someone to love with all of your heart and soul you want to spend forever with them – and this book reminds you that forever just isn’t long enough.

  2. I waited all day to post because I didn't want to be first (I fear appearing to be Sarah's stalker). Now I can't even come close to competing with that, and I'm embarrassed to post for a new reason. *Deep cleansing sigh* oh well, I guess I might as well.

    Because I am not yet open to the concept of love as Chris and Sarah know it, I can't say I've ever been moved by a book in that way. Furthermore, I have little patience for reading that genre. Not because I don't appreciate good romantic writing for what it is, or for the amazing feeling of having written words yank your emotional strings. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm lazy. And if I can't relate something directly to my life, I have trouble allowing it to hitch itself to my emotional strings. It's just how I do things. Call me selfish, call me opportunistic, call me cold-hearted, or call me too's ok, I have been called much worse. (Heck, I've been called much worse today.) Sad for me, but I can live vicariously through others and I can sure recognize the power of something to have the effect Chris described. I will struggle to admit it, but still: Chris's post gave me a few goose bumps. There. Now more about me.

    The Betty Crocker Cookbook changed my life. I mean the orange binder itself, complete with the little grease spots and flecks of dough on the waffle page (thanks for breakfast, mom!). I love the sound it made when mom pulled it out. I love her blue ink handwriting with her maiden name on the inside front cover. I love every recipe in that book. I even love the ones I hate. What gives? It's not just the memories of food (thanks for the french silk frosting on devil's food cake, mom!), it's that everything seemed surmountable because of that book. How hard can anything be, really, if it's covered in the BC cookbook? It's worth experimenting and being brave. After all, I've been learning to cook and bake since I was a fetus. I read that thing all the time, testing myself to see which tab would have pancakes (bread, not cakes), and apple betty (fruits, not deserts). I learned techniques, vocabulary, flavors, and textures.

    This one dated orange binder made me want more (food, yes...hah), but more food reading. I learned that cookbooks are not just utilities. I picked up 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' and read it before bed every night. And laying in the sun outside. And in my jammies and slippers on the couch. I ignored much of 10th grade algebra homework for this book, and my grades prove it. (Reminder: I'm lazy.) I love reading about food and creating unbelievable things that taste kind of, but really nothing like the ingredients you start with. I love to get ideas to try new things. I dislike failing, but I even love failing when I try stuff I've read about.

    The Betty Crocker Cookbook changed my life. Thanks mom! (But thanks more for all the recipes we have that aren't in a cookbook at all. Before we run, we learn to crawl.)

  3. Well, Raymond and Cook-Raymond, I feel like our balls are out there!