I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music.
My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!”
But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman having read or seen Pride and Prejudice, must be in want of a Mr. Darcy.” – Jane Austen and Ryanne McLaren*
*Note: The above quote does not actually represent the entirety of this post, but I did think it rather apt in capturing the feelings of Austenites everywhere.
Rereading Pride and Prejudice is probably the most fun summer homework I have ever had. I find myself procrastinating my other work as I continue to become absorbed into Jane Austen’s Regency world of country lanes, stuffy dinner parties, heartfelt letters, and- of course- the universally-beloved romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
In beginning to read this book for the second (or is it third?) time, I was determined to figure out which leading lady I am the most like. My mother used to tell me to “put on my Jane face” whenever I needed to act sweet and politely charming. But, others have mentioned that my sass is more in line with Elizabeth. I hope that I have never been a Lydia or Kitty, though I fear I may occasionally be Mary.
But…the more I read, the more I come to realize that I am not completely like any of these characters. And, while most girls will argue that Elizabeth is their spirit animal, I am afraid that I am, instead, Mr. Darcy.
Granted, I am obviously not a “young man in possession of a good fortune,” but I cannot avoid acknowledging the incredible similarities I have discovered between Darcy’s character and my own.
First of all, according to internet searches, which we all know are always accurate, both Darcy and I are INTJ personalities, commonly considered to be the “architects” archetype. INTJs are characterized by planning, introversion, and analysis. Of course, the Meyers-Briggs indicator does not capture the whole of our natures, so I will continue to delve deeper, using Darcy’s pursuit of Elizabeth as my primary evidence.
Rudeness and cluelessness:
“I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen 7-8).
I do not think that Darcy meant any overt meanness here, but was simply being blunt with his thoughts. If I had a nickel for every time I said something insensitive simply because I thought it obvious, I would be able to buy Pemberley. He was also clueless that the woman he slighted at first will become attractive to him within the next few chapters. I’ll admit this has happened to me too; upon meeting someone, I might not give him a second thought at first, even if he becomes important to me later.
2. Eye love intelligence:
“No sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes” (16).
Pardon the terrible pun, but Darcy comes to admire Elizabeth’s whole figure upon finding he admires the witty sparkle in her eyes. This is usually the first thing I see in a person too; a good-humored and intelligent expression in someone’s eyes is the most attractive thing to me and gives that entire person a handsomeness that cannot be matched.
3. Knowledge is power, but also love:
“He began to wish to know more of her” (16).
It might sound horrible, but people like Darcy and myself don’t care that much about learning about others unless we have a genuine affection for them. It goes right along with our detest of small talk. We don’t give two pence about someone’s thoughts on the weather,his/her favorite dinner course, or where he/she buys tea biscuits. Unless we care for this person deeply. In that case, we will not only want to know everything about him/her, but we will make a clear effort to ask and observe in order to gather information.
4. Falseness if futile:
“‘Nothing is more deceitful,’ said Darcy, ‘than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast'” (35).
When Miss Bingley copies and compliments everything Darcy does, he does not hide his annoyance, but expresses it in wise sayings she is sure to misinterpret but still allow him to speak his mind. He is aware of and despises all ploys of manipulation. Similarly, nothing bothers me more than falseness or deception and when I am aware of these manipulations, I speak my mind. And, though I usually believe I am correct, I also generally regret it.
5. Slow to form opinions, slow to discard them:
“My good opinion, once lost is lost forever” (43).
I agree with Elizabeth that this tendency is “a failing indeed,” but it is a failing I share with Darcy. Wickham wronged Mr. Darcy and deserved to lose his favor, but was it wrong of Darcy to renounce forgiveness? This is a fault of mine as well, for I am guilty of remaining cold toward people who have “lost my good opinion” for unreasonably long periods of time. But, I will add, the trust and friendship of such characters as Darcy and myself are not easily won, so it is understandable that breaks in these bonds are also not easily forgotten.
6. Desire is danger:
“He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention” (44).
This is an exaggeration, but I am right when I say that Darcy feared his attachment to Elizabeth. Feelings of any kind are discomfiting to natures such as his, for they not only contradict reason but are at risk of being found out by others. The fear of a person discovering where Darcy’s (or my own…) affections lie is all too real for him (and me.) We know from experience that secrets relating to the heart are best kept in complete privacy because it allows for protection of our own egos as well as make the likelihood of getting over such affections greater.
7. Reason > Romance:
“Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her…and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her” (43).
As I said before, if Darcy could forget his admiration of Elizabeth, he would likely congratulate himself on avoiding ridiculousness. It is the first instinct of people such as him and me to try and adhere to reason rather than romance, especially when there is a risk of the romantic feelings not being returned.
8. A matter of company:
“We neither of us perform to strangers” (135).
Although this scene centered around a piano, Darcy is not talking about musical performance, but rather social interaction. He makes it clear that he does not do well in many common social situations. This is crazy relatable for me. Dentist appointments, customer service lines, and ice breaker activities are torture because they require me to chat lightly with people I don’t generally connect with. (And, in the case of the dentist, I have to chat with sharp objects prodding my gums, which I think must literally be a punishment from hell.) However, when we find a place or group in which we meet people with shared interests or natures, we perform our social duties admirably enough to be mistaken for extroverts!
9. The gift of time:
“More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble…unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy…on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her” (140).
Darcy has made it clear up until this point in the novel that he does not enjoy spending much time chatting or idling. However, this is exactly what he keeps doing! In talking and walking with Elizabeth, he is showing that he cares for her enough to make time with her a priority. This is perhaps the greatest gift he can give her at this moment and, in the same way, I express my love by making time for people I love greatly.
10. When all else fails, GET TO THE POINT!
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (145).
Here is where Darcy and I differ; when Elizabeth fails to catch all of his hints, he straight up tells her “Hey, I like like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no.” I wish I were this bold. It would probably save me lots of overthinking. Maybe someday I’ll give it a shot… I do, however, share Darcy’s appreciation of straightforwardness and wish more people were like him in this way.
11. Service speaks:
“He had done all this for a girl whom he could neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper, that he had done it for her” (248).
When his profession of love was not returned, Darcy continued to show determined care in his actions, taking on the shame of the Bennets and doing all he could to restore their propriety. It is such selfless service that speaks Darcy’s love the loudest. I only hope I serve those I care about, even if they do not always share my feelings, in the same quiet and generous manner. Let’s also take a moment to celebrate that his determination and patience prove totally worth it in the end! 🙂
So there you have it. Again, I am not the tragically romantic figure that Darcy is, nor am I so reserved and skeptical as he is. Still, while I may not be as much like our dear Mrs. Darcy as I had hoped, there is nothing wrong with being a sort of Miss Darcy, as long as I don’t go about earning a reputation of being “proud…above [my] company…and above being pleased” (6).
Austen, Jane, James Kinsley, and Fiona J. Stafford. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
In reading Dante’s Inferno, I was struck by his ability to identify, categorize, and assign fitting punishments to various sins. This is not perhaps the most cheerful observation, but it was certainly intriguing and made me think (apologies for the morbidity): what crimes I would punish were I to write a modern Inferno and how would I punish them? Also, who would be guilty of these crimes? I realized after much thought that some of the most pressing “sins” of our times are (*thunder crash and lightning flash*) Word Crimes.
And so, it is with my grammarly pleasure (Yes, “grammarly” is a word. Besides, I made this Inferno, so what are you going to do about it?) that I present to you: The Word Crimes Inferno.
“Aboriginal AL hops your who entertain hear.”
It appears that the inscription on the Gates of Hell suffered from faulty auto-correct…I believe they were once meant to read: “Abandon all hope you who enter here.”
Circle I- Limbo: Here we encounter not the “virtuous pagans” or the “unbaptized infants” who Dante met, but rather those who passed before they had the opportunity to learn the basic rules of language. Poor souls, they had no knowledge of proper syntax or good diction and must live in a world of blank, wide-ruled paper and stubby pencils forever with no hope of achieving the necessary writing skills to escape.
Circle II- The Carnal: In this ring we encounter several familiar faces, including the authors of mindless romances who shall not be named.These souls are those who used language not according to the inspiration of the Muses but rather the urging of their own dirty minds. As punishment, they are forced to listen to their own works being read aloud in a monotone so that they can no longer take any enjoyment from them and recognize them for them for what they are: lifeless and lacking in artistic merit.
Circle III- The Gluttons: Buried in heaping piles of adjectives and unnecessary commas and forced to shout run-on sentences without pausing for breath we find those writers who were never satisfied. These gluttonous lovers of word counts and lists were never satisfied with a single, solid adjective and let commas rain like glitter throughout their work. Shameful, disgusting, unnecessary, pointless, fluffy, over-the-top…that is what these were in life and continue to be even now.
Circle IV- The Avaricious: Here in eternal torment are the ambitious but impatient writers, those who so desperately desired to be famous that they refused to wait for originality. Without consideration for literary worth, these souls jumped on the paranormal romance bandwagon driven by none other than Stephanie Meyer. The most mild of the punishments in this circle consists of reading the fan fictions written by overly-emotional teenage girls while off-key recordings of the Twilight soundtrack blasts from every side.
Circle V- The Wrathful and Sullen: These souls cannot be considered true writers, but still must face judgement. In life, they never wrote anything but complaints and passive-aggressive blurbs, frequently on sites such as Twitter or- in the distant past- MySpace. In this circle, these sufferers continue as they did in life, posting depressing and rude things. However, to make them feel the shame of their crime, they never are able to use the emoji that they intend to use. For instance, a girl lamenting the woes of being single at age fifteen will be forced to accompany her complaint with a laughing emoji and, for good measure, “#blessed.”
Circle VI- The Heretics: The shades in this circle are guilty of boldly declaring skewed opinions and/or misinformations, especially when not wanted. They also tend to use big words that they do not understand and now are forced to research everything before speaking or writing, as well as take regular spelling tests. However, to make this punishment even more painful, they must do this research while broadcasts of political addresses are played on repeat and pamphlets for various organizations rain from above.
Circle VII- The Violent: These are my least favorite sinners: the abusers of the rules of grammar. This word here is the 666th word in this post, so I think the Muses agree that this sin is among the most despicable. I am deeply grieved to say that many people of my personal acquaintaince might be doomed to this circle, where their grammar mistakes become reality. For example, if one were to write “your pretty”, intending to write a compliment, he now will be forced to explain how the other person owns “pretty.” When he cannot, he will be jabbed with scalding red pens by the editing demons. They also must scroll through Facebook and correct every instance of incorrect grammar that they encounter, all the while weeping over their crimes. (Or, as they might say “they’re” crimes. Forgive me.)
Circle VIII- The Fraudulent: The criminals here are guilty of twisting their language to suit their purposes. In this ring, we find the forgers of “fluff”, the frivolous fillers that English teachers command their students not to include in essays. We also find those who used quotes out of context to support faulty claims. Now they are condemned to carve bare facts onto stones using rusty nails so that they can no longer pervert the writing. To make this even more difficult, they must do so while struggling to stay afloat in a pool of foam which parallels the fluff that could not support a sound argument.
Circle IX- The Traitors: These wretched souls knowingly committed numerous word crimes and thus are considered total traitors to the English language. They are eternally sentenced (heeheehee) to be chewed headfirst between the covers of a hardcover Oxford Dictionary with teeth made of freshly-sharpened number two pencils. Let us not dwell any longer on the horror of this center circle.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed your journey through The Word Crimes Inferno. Please note that I will not actually throw anyone into this wretched place…mostly because it does not exist…
Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.
He says in Book XI lines 363-369:
“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine
that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth
breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up
lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have
a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,
and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story
of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”
In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth. Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.
Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.
Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.
To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.
Standing at the checkout at the grocery store, I found myself incredibly bored having forgotten both my book and my phone. Most people in such a predicament would probably do one of two things: 1) make small-talk with fellow shoppers or 2) flip idly through the magazines on the racks. Similar to Mr. Darcy, I am unskilled at small-talk and what was I to say? “Oh, hello. I see you too are buying high-fiber granola. Good choice.” How about no. I’d rather not be the creepy granola girl. So that left me with the second option, but I wasn’t quite sure about this one either. As much as I hate to admit it, I was interested to see how Kaitlyn from The Bachelorette was holding up (watching her crazy drama is anthropology, okay? Don’t judge me.) However, were hot dating tips and fad diet plans really expected to hold my attention for more than about twenty seconds? That said, I was back to people-watching, wondering why the guy in front of me was buying only a gallon of milk and a giant bag of salt-water taffy. And then, taffy guy was forgotten as an idea came to me: a magazine filled with, instead of celebrities and gossip, book characters and authors and such! To my dismay, I have not the abilities or means to produce such a magazine on my own, but this blog is a good start, right? So I thought it might be fun (at least to my nerdy self…maybe not anyone else, but who knows!) to publish magazine-style articles based on books and thus, I present, the first post of my new Literary Living category.
In an exclusive interview with best friends Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, I was fortunate to learn their FiveSigns that You've Found Your Best Friend:
1. You knew right away that you’d be friends. Call it intuition or a sheer determination to like someone, the minute you two met, you knew that you were kindred spirits. Whether or not you were close right away doesn’t matter. Some, like Anne, lose no time in initiating a friendship, while others, like Diana, are more cautious. Still, there is that initial inkling that you share similarities, souls alike enough to be what Anne refers to as “kindred spirits.”
2. You remember the little things.Anne knows Diana’s weakness for chocolate cake and Diana knows Anne’s tendency to become too wrapped up in her thoughts. In the same way, when you’ve found a kindred spirit, you will probably remember what his or her favorite artist is to listen to when he/she is feeling down and, similarly, he or she will know what color you like to wear best or even what your favorite percentage of dark chocolate is.
3. You have each others’ backs.When Diana was picked on by the boys, Anne chased Charlie Sloane down to teach him a lesson. When Anne was nervous for her exams, Diana came with her for support. Even in small ways, like bringing over chocolate when one is sad or giving an understanding smile during a rough day, true friends will always know when they are needed and make every effort to be there.
4. You may not be completely similar, but you appreciate each others’ differences.Anne was an ambitious dreamer; Diana a comfort-loving nurturer. Both were imaginative, intelligent, and kind, but they were still different. Yet, Diana’s level-headed nature and Anne’s spontaneity provided balance and both appreciated it. Think of all the sets of friends in literature: Sherlock and John, Jane and Elizabeth, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Merry and Pippin, the Mysterious Benedict Society, and especially Anne and Diana! Each group had introverts and extroverts, nurturers and sass-masters, thinkers and doers, and these differences were acknowledged to be essential.
5. You sometimes seem to be speaking a language all of your own.The Haunted Wood, Mr. Blythe, cherry cordial. Anne and Diana had so many unique memories that they could probably have carried on conversations that only they would be able to understand. In the same way, when you’ve found a true kindred spirit, your conversations might consist more of awkward facial expressions, references to inside jokes, and perhaps snippets of musical numbers.
For the fun of it, Anne and Diana shared another tidbit: When you’ve found a true friend, you never really have to say goodbye because “kindred spirits are always together in spirit.”
One of my friends who knows more about movies than I do informed me that “Inception” does not actually refer to having one thing within itself but rather having a story begin at the end (or something like that) and that my cookies more accurately could be compared to nesting dolls, with one thing holding a smaller version of that same thing. However, “Nesting Doll Cookies” does not have the same ring to it as “Cookie-ception Cookies” does. In fact, “Nesting Doll Cookies” sound absolutely disgusting. I toyed around with calling this recipe “Procrastination Cookies” since I invented it rather than finishing my AP Literature essay, but as I found out this week that my teacher reads my blog, I figured it would be wiser not to give this post such a self-incriminating title. (To my teacher: If you are reading this, I promise that I will complete my essay and also bring you a cookie.)
Anyway, enough rambling. These are the most guiltily, scrumptiously delicious cookies I have ever made, and I’m not just saying that because they were produced by a recipe of my own devising. They combine two of my favorite dessert flavors: Speculoos Cookie Butter (or Biscoff if you prefer, but I will readily admit my brand loyalty to Speculoos and Trader Joe’s) and, of course, chocolate, plus a not-so-secret ingredient that makes them light and fluffy.
Note: I doubled the recipe, but this makes a ridiculous amount of cookies (more than 4 dozen depending on how you scoop them) so consider halving it. Of course, the more dough you make, the less you can bake, and the more you get to eat raw!
Prep time: 20-30 minutes
1 cup butter, softened
1 heaping cup creamy Cookie Butter (make sure it really is heaping)
2 cups sugar
2 cups brown sugar
1-2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup dry pudding mix (just vanilla)
2 cups chocolate chips (preferably semi-sweet)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Cream together the softened butter and Cookie Butter
Add sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla; cream with the butter and Cookie Butter
Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pudding mix
Beat the dry mixture into the creamed mixture
Fold in the chocolate chips
Bake balls of dough on ungreased baking sheet for 10-12 minutes
Let cookies residual bake out of the oven until they can be removed from the baking sheet; in the meantime, eat some dough. Or maybe a lot of dough.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! I know I did; making and then baking this recipe was a fantastic way to unwind after a looooooong week of exams and concerts, so I definitely encourage any other busy reader to reverse “stressed” to get “desserts” with Cookie-ception Cookies.
Once more, I find myself in the uncomfortable situation of actually enjoying my homework. A lot. I know that many people in my class find this irritating, but I can’t help it; I like to write, so naturally I will like an assignment that requires me to write a short story using the literary elements that we studied this year. As my story turned out better than I expected, I thought that perhaps I would share it here on my blog, but I will add this disclaimer: I am rather shy about my stories (unlike blog posts and essays which are open to anyone and everyone and their cousins’ pets) and thus I am nervous about sharing this little scribbling with the world. Well, maybe not the world… I’m nervous about sharing my scribbling with my whopping double-digit number of followers. That said, read it if you will, but don’t judge me too harshly; I’m not a Montgomery or Bradbury by any means, although those authors may or may not make appearances in this tale…
Without further adieu, I give you “The Window Washer.”
The Window Washer
The first time he saw her, in the library on a school day like every other, he tried to ignore her, pretending not to feel the intensity of her gaze upon his face. If it were not for this penetrating stare, she would have been remarkably easy to look through; she was almost translucent, in a way. That is, if a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human could be translucent. She was like mist, for just as one can squint through mist yet still feel its cool caress against the skin, it was easy to look beyond her, with her powder-white skin and hair the color of a noon sun’s rays, but it was impossible to ignore the burn of her clear, clear eyes. If eyes are truly the windows of the soul, hers had no curtains to dull her spirit’s face as it peered out, smiling at the world around it.
The boy edged past her, not daring to let his soul wave at hers from behind its shades. Instead, he drew them further shut, trying to block the light that seemed to be streaming from her as lamplight from an open door. Crouching down at the end of the aisle, he began to search the lowest shelf.
“B…b-r-a-d…” he muttered to himself, still uncomfortably conscious of the girl behind him, watching as he searched for an author whose name he had already forgotten. Hopping a few inches to the right, he knelt, holding the shelf for balance, and scanned the middle row of books. Still not finding or remembering the author he had been sent after by his teacher, he grunted in frustration and hoisted himself to his feet.
Without warning, a warmth pressed gently into his shoulder. He looked up with a start and just as quickly ducked his gaze back to the floor, blinking rapidly like a child who has mistakenly stared into the sun. The pressure of the girl’s hand, so tiny and fragile, increased as if to insist that he look at her.
“What do you want?” he asked defensively. Thankfully no librarian was nearby for he had not bothered to lower his voice.
The girl gave no audible reply, but with her other hand, equally tiny and fragile, reached in front of him and pointed to a book so slim and short and dark that he had failed to see it hidden amidst the others.
The boy squinted at the faded name printed on its spine and after a moment, recognized it as the author whose name he had forgotten: Bradbury. Bending forward, the girl eased it from its resting place and held it out to the boy. He stared blankly at its worn cover, where an illustrated fire burned as brightly as it had since first printed and the shadow of a book flapped its covers helplessly amid the printed smoke. She gave it a gentle shake as if to say “Take it,” and dumbly, he grasped it, rose, and hurried away, never once meeting her gaze.
The boy awoke with a jerk. He had been having a nightmare. As his heart resumed its regular tempo, he cautiously turned his head to his right as if afraid that the monsters that haunted his dreams were still nearby. Instead, all he saw was a book, illuminated around its edges by the glow of his alarm clock.
“3:00 am,” read the neon blue letters of the clock.
“Everything always seems worse at 3:00am,” a silent voice quoted. He had read that line just the evening before in the book that lay beside him, another book that the silent girl had given him, one filled with the beauty of a distant Canadian town and the dreams of a fiery-haired girl with a temper to match her braids.
He had balked when the girl had followed him to the fiction section, turned her flashlight eyes on him, and pointed to this book; its cover image, so unlike the exiting flames of the first novel, was so pastoral, so…girly. That was the only way that he could describe it and was so doubtful of this selection (not in the least because he was decidedly against reading outside of that required to pass his remedial English class) that he had opened his mouth to protest.
“No, thanks,” he was about to say, holding up his hands and backing away from the girl and the paperback she held as one might from a coiled snake. But she was only- in appearance at least- a slender girl in a flowery blouse with a slight smile that might have won his immediate affection had he only had the courage to look at her face.
She was not to be deterred and softly but gently took his raised hand and pressed the tiny volume into it, closing his fingers around it and peering at him intently. His eyes peeked for a fraction of a moment into hers, but again he could not withstand the gleaming of her open soul. When he looked up again, she was gone, leaving only the book nestled in his arms.
Now it was sleeping on his nightstand between its thin covers, but he was learning that if he just cracked them open and gave the words his attention, a beautiful world of people and sights and emotions he had never before experienced would awaken all at once to comfort him in the face of nightmares, easing his rapid heartbeat, providing a means of escape.
Squinting at the letters of the book by the dim glow of the clock, still blinking “3:00am,” he watched a sunrise on Prince Edward Island from the garden of a little home with a green roof and a laughing girl named Anne.
The passport to Prince Edward Island fell with a soft thud into the book drop beneath the library counter. As he was turning to exit, the boy paused, swiveled slowly, and walked past the cluster of tables where fellow students worked or procrastinated and into the fiction section. Perhaps without even knowing it, he smiled softly as he passed the pastel sisters of the book he had once condemned as too feminine.
As he stooped to examine this shelf, a sparkle caught his eye. The girl with the crystalline eyes blinked at him through an empty spot on the shelf. She was surprised at first, but the boy did not notice the brief flicker behind her lashes as he averted his gaze in embarrassment and, although it was their third meeting, an inexplicable fear of her piercing gaze. A moment passed and he could still feel the prickle of her stare on his forehead. Finally, he cleared his throat, a harsh sound against the whispering and rustling of the library, and mumbled a greeting.
“Hello,” was the reply, and, as she spoke, he realized that he had never heard her voice before, but, somehow, she had spoken volumes. Her voice, in that single word, was as intense and clear as her eyes, though not nearly so alarming. There was a softness to it that reminded him of the breezes he’d imagined while reading the second book and it stirred something within him. For a split second, a spark leapt into his eyes too. It faded quickly, but the girl saw its ember and spoke again.
“Come here.” It was not a command, but an invitation.
“Why?” No amount of gruffness could veil the curiosity in the boy’s voice.
“Come and see.” The flame in her eyes danced to the lilt in her voice, hinting of a secret joy that she ached to share.
He rose and hurried around the shelf to where she squatted, several books piled on the floor around her while she held one like a child in her arms. It was open and she was flipping through its pages, pausing every couple of turns to skim a line and breathe deeply, as though drinking in the words with the scent of the grey pages.
“What’ve you got there?” the boy asked.
She just smiled and held it up for him to see its cover, where the silhouette of a man with a long nose, magnifying glass, and tobacco pipe was embossed in a dull bronze. The rest of the book was black, aside from the bold title.
The boy nodded appreciatively. Somewhere he had heard of this story… television, maybe? He could not remember.
“Is it good?” The rapt expression on the girl’s face as she read another page answered this question.
“What’s it about?” he tried again. This time, she closed it with a snap and held it out to him.
“That’s a mystery for you to solve,” she said, her voice lowered and filled with intrigue. Her eyes twinkled playfully as he took the book from her outstretched hands.
Several weeks passed before the boy returned to the library; it was a hefty book that she had chosen for him, after all, and there had been many cases for him and Sherlock to solve. When he finally returned with the finished book, there was a marked change about his eyes that at first glance was not obviously for the better. Large bags circled them in purply puffs and to outsiders, these bags might indicate insomnia or depression or the incurable procrastination that ails most adolescents, but if they had bothered to look beyond the sagging eyelids and the reddened whites, as the girl did, they would discover that these were not just the bags of a sleepless teenager, living off of caffeine and late-night cram sessions, but book bags, albeit of a different sort. These “book bags” were caused by late-night reading and early-morning rereading and reading at every spare second in-between. And, packed within them, there was a glow, like that of embers, waiting only for one final breath of oxygen before bursting into glorious flames.
The girl saw all of this, for her eyes too had once undergone that metamorphosis of readership, and she approached the boy at once when he reentered her domain.
“Hello!” he said, his voice less gruff than usual. His bloodshot eyes peeked into her stainless-window eyes from behind their fading curtains. Hers shone back, but somehow, despite- or perhaps because of- many nights of squinting in a darkened room at the many letters of many words on many pages, the intensity did not burn as much as it had at first.
“Enjoyed adventuring with Mr. Holmes?” she nodded to the book he held.
He broke their gaze and looked down at the book, fumbling absently with its pages, every one of which had been read in full, despite frequent requisite visits to online dictionaries.
“Yes, thanks,” he replied and then, on impulse, added, “Is there anything else you’d suggest?”
She gasped in excitement, clasping her cream-colored hands together and opening her mouth to speak. But, as suddenly as she’d opened it, she closed it and bit her lip in thought, as if struggling to contain the flood of authors and titles that threatened to burst forth. A few seconds ticked by. The boy again sent the finished book down the book drop and turned back to face the girl, who continued to look at him, the light of her extraordinary eyes dimmed to a warm fervency.
“I do,” she said at last, “but I think you should try choosing something for yourself.”
Long after the girl had left, he had stood lost in the maze of shelves, trying in vain to choose a book- just one book- but finding himself as helpless as he had been on his first visit. This time, however, he was not wholly blind to the arrangement of the authors and he stumbled back to the “B”s, back to the first author, back to the beginning.
But then, something flashed across the corner of his vision; it struck against the window of his soul and refused to be ignored. He stopped, staring at the book with the red-lettered title that seemed to shout at him from its perch. It called down to him from the top shelf, where it seemed exalted above the others. Perhaps it was its smooth spine, its creamy covers, or its bold title that grabbed at his attention and would not let go, but whatever it was that had distinguished it from the other books was unimportant; it appealed to some yearning in the boy’s soul and, while two months ago he would have shrugged off this entreat, he did not hesitate to answer it now.
The boy strode directly to the shelf and, standing on his tiptoes, pulled the book from its spot, heedless of its neighbors as they slide sideways in its absence. He marched to the desk and checked it out without bothering to read the synopsis on its back cover. Throughout the rest of the day, the bus ride home, and the tedious work of the evening, the book sat patiently next to the boy, secure in the knowledge that it would be read soon.
That night, chores done, homework finished, the moment that boy and book had been awaiting arrived. Picking it up tenderly, he sat on the edge of his bed, slowly drew it open, and turned to the very first line of the first chapter.
And then, as he read that first line, the veil was torn and his mind set free. The dusty panes of loneliness and worry that had dimmed his eyes were shattered and his soul shone from its windows as brilliantly as that of the girl who had washed away the grime of the world with words.
A week later, another young man entered the library, downtrodden, suspicious, and alone. He sat concealed behind a corner shelf, staring blankly at the bruised palms of his hands, when a voice broke in on his murky thoughts.
“Hello there,” it said. “I have something you need.”
Turning his shaggy head, which spoke sorrowfully of neglect and despair, he saw, crouched down beside him, another boy, with two shining eyes, two hands, and a book.