Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joys and Sorrow of a Great Book

I just devoured a book. No - I didn't actually eat the pages, binding, or cover. Rather, I tore through it, furiously reading each word, turning each page, and eagerly waiting, breathlessly, for the end. I couldn't put it down, yet was forced to abandon said book within 30 pages of the end. I had to complete a run (lots of work in zone 3 with a gradual rise to zone 4. The kind of work that's comfortably uncomfortable. Or uncomfortably comfortable, depending on your take). Afterwards, I had to drive up to Whiting Field for a meeting at the Fleet and Family Service Center, as Nathaniel's helicopter squadron was having a workshop on surviving military marriage. (Hint: let one spouse, who has feverishly read a Great Book, finish the Great Book before the meeting. Otherwise she may become a little distracted. And agitated. And therefore can't possibly be held accountable for her actions.)


When I was a little kid, it was just the same. My Mom would always shake her head, marveling at my ability to turn page after page, never loosing focus or concentration. She would ask me to do something, only to find me - 3 hours later - in the same spot reading the same book. I'm sure it was frustrating (sorry Mom, but your encouragement with Brian Jacques and the "Redwall" series left a permanent love for good books imprinted on my soul. Thanks.)

When the books I read were really good, I would abandon sleep, reading late into the night. My schedule was busy enough as it was, between violin practice, school, sports, and all the things that kids do. I simply didn't have enough time to read what I wanted.

So I stayed up late. Mom or Dad would tuck me in, whisper "I love you!", and kiss me goodnight.

And then my adventures began. This was my signal to switch on my bedside lamp, grab my current read stashed away under the bed (but being careful of the monsters that surely lurked underneath), and burrow under the covers with the book peeking out, just enough for the pages to be illuminated. I would literally read myself to sleep.

Sometimes, I would read so fast, be so eager to find out what happened, that I forgot what I was reading about. But ever the faithful reader I was, I would figure out where I left off, re-read the pages I had plowed through, and then continue on with the story.

I really enjoyed the "Redwall" series by Brian Jacques, but have to admit that "Sweet Valley High" and "The Babysitter's Club" were thrown in for good measure. But Brian Jacques remained my favorite author throughout my youth. In the third grade, As a special surprise, Mom took me to the Red Balloon bookshop one day for a "very special adventure."

In the car, she had a present: a bag of carmel corn, and the promise of a wonderful treat (not the candy). As we parked in the bookstore lot, my curiosity was piqued, but I didn't quite know what was in laying in wait. As we entered the bookstore, I was amazed to come face to face with Brian Jacques himself!!!

I was starstruck - I remember thinking "oh my gosh! A REAL famous person!! Wow!" (My spectrum of fame included authors, violinists, and the Indiana University Hoosier Men's Basketball Team. My Dad was an alum, and I grew up a Bob Knight and Hoosier fan.) But Mr. Jacques... a REAL star.

He was wonderful. A tall, friendly British gent who loved children and reading. During his discussion, one of the kids in the audience asked him if he had memorized his words. He responded by asking us to whip out our copy of "Redwall", turn to chapter 2, and then proceeded to recite word-for-word the first 2 pages. He had each and every person, kid and adult alike, in the room hooked on every word. It was magical, as though time herself stood still, and the stars in the sky were left breathless.

The room was so silent, a pin could have dropped, or a mouse squeaked and everone from one corner to the other whould have known. No one dared whispter and break the sanctity of the moment. I will remember it forever.

After the discussion, Mom and I were 3rd in line, waiting to meet Mr. Jacques. When he asked my name, I mumbled, "Marit", as I was too shy and too amazed by his mere presence to speak clearly.

"Marit," he replied, repeating the name, and turning the "r" over. "Let's see, Ma-rit... I like it. Perfect name for a little mole maiden, don't you think?"

His eyes twinkled, his face formed an inviting smile. If I could, I would have sat near him all afternoon, listening to his accent, enjoying his stories, and marveling at the creative mind who produced my favorite characters. To this day, I still hold out that he'll name a "little mole maiden" Marit.

During the school year, I would read our class reading lists (ever hopeful that a book on the "Redwall" series would made an appearance. Unfortunately, it never did), even reading ahead when a particular book caught my fancy. For a while, I was stuck on Roald Dahl, author of "The Twits", "James and the Giant Peach", "Matilda", and "The Witches". I read these books all in progression, marveling at the wonderful stories this author crafted.

At first, I was very disappointed when my 4th grade teacher made me sit still through her own reading of "The Witches". I already knew what happened, had already enjoyed the book, so I figured that I didn't need to re-read or hear her version. But soon the story snagged my imagination, and with her words and her voice, I found a new appreciation for the story. Even though I already knew the end, it didn't mean that I couldn't re-read it, just for fun...

A few weeks later, after I had finished yet another round of books, I went back to Roald Dahl's adventures, and re-read my favorites, staying up late into the night. I enjoyed each and every one, and found that I actually learned more from a second reading than on the first. Because I already knew what happened, was already aware of the plot, characters, themes, etc, etc, I learned so much more.

And I've re-read books ever since, returning to them like old friends.

My Mom mentioned that our next door neighbor had remarked that it was, "always nice to see a light on in Marit's window. She's a late night reader, and I find myself doing the same - after everyone has gone to bed, of course."

Libby was another kindred spirit, I suppose.

Through high school and college, even though I was very busy, I tried to make sure I had enough time for reading. I enjoyed Harry Potter, Sue Grafton, and several other books that I can't immediately think of. Even though my time was precious and limited, I always returned to the safe haven of a good book.

To this day, it's the same way.

In the words of my Dad, I, "burn the midnight oil."


Books are wonderful: they are a place I go to, a place I visit outside of my own life. No matter what kind of workout I had, how stuff is going, what's happening all around, books are always there, their pages beckoning my fingers to peruse, my eyes to glance. And then, they inevitably draw me in.

They are wonderful to enjoy, and I find myself - especially as of late when I don't have to get up really really really early to swim or get my workouts in - staying up late, furiously tearing through another great book. (okay okay, it happens even when I've got early morning sessions....) My Dad would be proud of all the "midnight oil" I've burned.

The thrills of a good read are numerous. The pages, characters, themes, plots - they all capture your attention, they come to life. You take notice, enthralled and captivated by every entrancing word. When an author weaves a plot, we become ensnared in their world, slowly becoming oblivious to our surroundings. I can still relate to "Mariel of Redwall", her sense of adventure and daring. I want to think that I know the girls from Sweet Valley and The Babysitter's Club. I imagined that The Twits lived nearby, always wary of worms in my spaghetti. Harry Potter was simply magical, while I always try to find a little of Kinsey Millhone in me. Books are wonderful, and they are marvelous at complimenting our lives.

And the sorrow? The only sorrow in a wonderful book is coming to the end. (At least in my opinion) When the end is in sight, the final pages drawing near, I always feel a little bit of sadness. I've just become acquainted with the characters, the novel, and it seems such a shame to end it all. I want to keep reading, to keep learning about the adventures, to find out what happens next.

The same happens with a great workout, or even with a race (to a certain extent). While my end goal is to finish, I also want to enjoy the journey. The sensation of flying above the ground is nameless, reaching that zen-like place of workout bliss is priceless. Same with a great book. We don't want it to end, because we're enjoying it in the present so much.

But I guess that's life in general. We want to know what's around the next bend, around the next corner. But we won't know until we venture out on our own, ready and willing to take on the world. (Push PAST that finish line, and power through the hill, not just up).

I once got an email from a fantastic triathlete who reminded me that, "We all write the end of our own story." And she's completely right. While I love reading, and even though I'm a little sad to finish a great book, I'll always be comforted by the knowledge that I have the power to pick up the next good book, find my next Great Read. Or, I can always write a novel of my own.

For now, I'll keep reading, thanks.

And for the record, the Great Book was Sue Grafton's "T is for Trespass." If you're in the hunt for a good book, I strongly recommend it. Enjoy reading. And writing your own story.


Danielle said...

I feel exactly the same way about books. I used to spend my allowance on batteries for my flashlight for late night reading!!! My husband always knows when I need to take a trip to the library...when I am in bed at 9:00 with the lights out and the radio on... My three-year old is well on her way to being a book worm (she is "reading" (a.k.a. pretending) Shakespeare's Four Tradgedies this week)! Did you ever read any of James Herriott's books growing up? He's got some great cat stories...

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

I can't say that I'm familiar with James Herriott... now I'll have to go look him up! I'm sure I may have come across him at some point, but just don't recognize the name. I think it's AWESOME that you spent money on batteries for the flashlight - too funny! Books are great like that - thanks for sharing your comment. ANOTHER kindred spirit out there...

Danielle said...

BTW...I've been meanign to write that your blog brings back some memories from the 90s when my husband was a LT in the Army. We got married on his 23rd birthday... right before he was stationed in Germany. Everyone thought we were crazy to marry so young... They were hard years due to the separations, but I really treasure the time we squeezed in together traveling. I hate to fly, too, and the bumpier it is, the more fun Andrew has!!! I tell him it's because he knows how to use a parachute and I don't!

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Danielle - that's awesome! Nate and I were married really young too - I was 22, he was 24... so you understand the moves, the deployments, the stress, etc etc etc... but its wonderful knowing that there are other people out there who can connect and stuff. Military life is a LOT different than I thought - but it's been wonderful at the same time. Germany would be a fascinating place to be stationed, but I'm sure that it came with its own set of struggles! Wow - just married and a BIG move! Holy cow! Reading your comments make me smile - military, not a big fan of flying, and a book lover... wonderful!

Ashley said...

ohmygosh!! You just took me back in time - for a moment, I was my younger self... sitting in the backseat of my parent's car (even after we'd reached our destination) simply because I wanted to finish my Babysitter's Club Book! And Redwall, yes! Ok, you're my new reading resource.