Category Archives: classics
I had always been a storyteller, ever since I could talk, though when I was young, I could say very little due to a speech impediment. Maybe I told stories to only myself before I ever learned to give the stories to others, like ghetto-wrapped gifts, the corners of loose leaf paper sticking out the edges of the package.
Maybe the lack of speaking much or the lack of friends not speaking resulted in propelled me to read constantly, almost ferociously, as if I were in contest with every other six year old. I remember being incredibly proud in first grade of having read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when most kids my age could not read at all. So maybe it was only natural that by age eleven, I finally announced I would be a writer.
While my parents sat watching some sitcom on TV, I marched into the room and announced my plan. I would write a book, I said, and then I would publish it. At the age of eleven, I possessed very little actual knowledge of the publishing industry. I believed that once I wrote the book, I needed only send it to “The Publisher” so he could sell it for millions of dollars. Then I would drop out of school and never have to deal with stupid long division again or memorize the capitals of all the states or write in cursive (why did we do that again? I still can’t write in cursive.)
At the time, the family shared a desktop computer in my parents’ room, and any time they were not paying taxes or my brother wasn’t loading extremely long movies, I would write. I was not just going to be another kid who liked to write, either. I’d be a WRITER, which would mean I was published. Now, as you get older, the level of publishing changes. For example, I have now published some short stories, poems, and numerous journalistic articles, but that makes me a WRITER, not an AUTHOR. And maybe, I also would like to be an AUTHOR soon. Still, I charged on ahead with unbridled optimism that I could write better than at least most eighth graders.
By now, I had already given up on “kid novels.” If anyone was to take me seriously as a writer, I needed to read the great classics. I’m not sure I read anything else until maybe ninth grade. In a way, this helped immensely, immersing myself in such great works of literature so young. Now, however, I often return to comic books and YA novels because they are really fantastic, and why didn’t I read these while it was socially acceptable to do so? Oh well, I’ll make up for it now.
Also, when I began writing this novel which had something to do with a guy named Mr. Capri and a guy name Mr. Paradox collecting jewels to become magical and evil, I used 24-point font. Obviously, by using such large font, I could write more pages and therefore be seen as more intelligent and impressive.
“Derek, you wrote a 300 page novel?”
“Yes, I actually wrote ten novels.”
Fifth grade: the year of a ten novel series, each maybe ten thousand words each. Then again, combine all these, and at least I wrote something truly novel-length. Of course I would go on to try to write many more novels over the year, roughly a different project each year. I learned to query and all about publishing, and I began building credentials from shorter things I had written. Eventually, I started this blog and wrote a new novel that I’m quite excited about and may actually be worth publishing.
Back to fifth grade…
Most of the names did not stick, although Mr. Paradox was probably the best villain name ever. My main character, I named Declin. I asked my mom what a good name would be. She was reading a book by an author named Declan, so she simply told me that. I misspelled the name, of course, and that spelling stuck with me. I vowed back in the fifth grade to use “Declin” as a character name in whatever novel I published first. I held myself true to my word at eleven. Go check yourself: new novel, same name.
But I am still proud of myself for that feat. Fifth grade ain’t easy for anyone, especially someone just then learning to speak properly and socialize with, you know, “other people.” This story does not signify anything, only it tells a story. Sometimes stories must be told, though. Sometimes, I am arrested by the need to tell a story, say something, so I sit down and write it, even if it might not mean something. Perhaps that even more than wanting to be taken seriously, that caused me to transcribe that first battle of good and evil between Declin and Mr. Paradox.
Maybe even today, I’m still telling stories just to tell them, not because they might mean something, the themes bold and life-changing. But simply because they are stories, and when you’re a writer and have a story to tell, you can’t not tell it.
It’s time to talk about YA seriously. We enjoy it secretly, buy it for our Kindles, Nooks, and IPads so no one will see the covers of the books we read, and we deny its quality. We say, “I don’t read YA, but I guess I enjoyed Harry Potter. And the Hunger Games. Oh, and–“
Let’s stop pretending: YA is just another category we can store books. That doesn’t mean YA books are shined up like you’d expect: no, YA books we consider suitable for teens and preteens are full of guts, sex, and gore. Teachers can apparently even be fired for reading YA material to their middle school classes. No that that’s a problem. Books are the one great free place for children anymore, forbidden to see R-rated films or cuss. They can sink into the sordid details of books their parents never expect hold immoral pleasures, those same parents only happy “that they’re reading.”
In my formative years, when I had so much acne my face looked like a red scatter-plot and my voice screeched like a porpoise, I
resented reading YA books. I tackled lengthy Dostoevsky tomes, serialized syntactically-repulsive Charles Dickens works, and sometimes even excerpts of Keats. Now, this all had a profound effect on me, this chasing after philosophical significance in each work I read. I craved classics, and they served both to entertain me and make me look like an under-aged literati. I scoffed at kids who read so-called YA books.
To be honest, anything from The Hunger Games to Ender’s Game to Treasure Island may be flukes. They may entertain more than just young adults simply because they are not meant for young adults. But let me impress upon you an important idea. In publishing, the marketing choice to make something YA usually does not come until the author has a deal.
Because of all of these revelations, when perhaps three weeks ago I was offered the chance to read the Percy Jackson series, I took it. I recently finished the fifth book, having devoured them quickly and rapaciously, even in the midst of exams. Getting hooked on any series when exams approach is as bad an idea as pointing a laser pointer in your own eye. Why are these books so addictive? I’m afraid you’ll have to discover that for yourself. Here is a synopsis of the debut.
After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.
This first installment of Rick Riordan’s best-selling series is a non-stop thrill-ride and a classic of mythic proportions.
There are five books in the series, and I really enjoyed them. At first, I was annoyed by little things. The meaning of some events were vague, and a lot happened for no reason at all. But as the series progresses, Rick Riordan finds his footing in about the third book, the plotting much smoother, the character motivations much clearer.
I believe it is extremely important to pay attention to YA books because they capture very adult themes while delivering a tight, fast-paced plot. People complain a lot about books either being pointless or too pretentious, and most YA books hit that sweet middle spot.
Like I said before, I have not read many YA books, but I will suggest a few I actually did read.
1.) The Underlander Chronicles
Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games author) first wrote this brilliant, multi-faceted series. Absolutely fell in love with it in the sixth grade. Great action with some quirky twists.
This irresistible first novel tells the story of a quiet boy who embarks on a dangerous quest in order to fulfill his destiny — and find his father — in a strange world beneath New York City.
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor’s arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland’s uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it — until he realizes it’s the only way to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.
2.) Chronicles of Narnia
Classic books to better get in touch with your childhood imagination.
Narnia is the land of enchantment, glory, nobility–home to the magnificent Aslan, cruel Jadis (the White Queen), heroic Reepicheep, and kind Mr. Tumnus.
3.) Inheritance Cycle
Like dragons? Fair enough. Read this.
Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy—until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save—or destroy—the Empire.
4.) The Bartimus Trilogy
Possibly one of my favorite fantasy books growing up. As I begin to delve back into fantasy, I remember why I fell so deeply in love with the genre. This dark and stylized book thrilled me.
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.
Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine. In British author Jonathan Stroud’s excellent novel, the first of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the story switches back and forth from Bartimaeus’s first-person point of view to third-person narrative about Nathaniel. Here’s the best part: Bartimaeus is absolutely hilarious, with a wit that snaps, crackles, and pops. His dryly sarcastic, irreverent asides spill out into copious footnotes that no one in his or her right mind would skip over. A sophisticated, suspenseful, brilliantly crafted, dead-funny book that will leave readers anxious for more.
6.) Perks of Being a Wallflower
Not a fantasy or adventure series like the rest, this too is considered YA. It is beautifully written and will break your heart and make you crack up until you wheeze for air. For even further awesomness, there will soon be a movie of this starring Logan Lehrman and Emma Watson. Count me in!
Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.
If you read any of these books, including the Percy Jackson series, you will come away with a new appreciation for books usually meant for kids. While at 18 I’m supposedly an adult (under the law), I am certainly still in love with imaginative stories that spark my mind and carry me to magical realms.
Last night, while watching the Aiken County Playhouse’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I realized something important about fiction, more specifically comedy: dirty humor is a must.
Many people shake their heads at sexual humor, seemingly meant only to stimulate the minds of sick teenage boys (me). I mean, American Reunion has been released, a beg-play at making more money off the original franchise. Of course, there have been umpteen direct-to-DVD sequels, but apparently the series is successful enough to continue producing movies. Why?
I will say it out right- dirty humor is hilarious. Sure, it is immature and pointless and plebeian and sometimes sickening, but always funny. Butter, a cow Halloween costume, and a game of truth-or-dare add up to nothing less than hilarious in my mind. Oh, why cannot directors and even writers use adult humor. The Woody Allen kind, the cold, ironic humor. Sure, I think that is quite funny too, but not always laugh-out-loud funny. Refer to a sex organ through a balloon animal and yes, I will howl like a hyena.
Shakespeare is likely one of my favorite bawdy comics. When he begins making jokes about sex, he gets down and dirty, and he’s not
afraid to refer to some of the most taboo subjects of his time. What Shakespeare does really well which some contemporary dirty movies is use subtlety to tell these dirty jokes. He’ll will refer to sex via hilarious puns and innuendos. Have we lost the art of subtlety? It’s not funny to simple call oral sex oral sex. But if you refer to a “the winds that Mother Nature even could blow,” that is dead funny in a Victorian England sort of way.
What fails at these references: see any American Pie spin0ff, horror movie featuring killer fish and topless girls, or National Lampoon straight-to-DVD film.
Compare the following.
Shakespeare Sonnet 125:
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.
In this passage, the word “Will” takes on the double meaning of ambition as well as “phallus.”
Now, consider the movie American Pie where the entire joke IS sex. You cannot allow sex itself to be funny. Look viewers, there is sex happening on the screen between two teenagers! And look, a naked midget!
It just does not work. I appreciate those movies for their raunchiness, but dirty does not ultimately equate funny. Dirty and smartly stylized equates to funny.
The question we must consider… is WHY we appreciate dirty humor. Shakespeare included it in his plays for the lower class. In one play (say, Hamlet), the bard explores the woes of love, life, and revenge and also makes jokes about virginity, whore-dom, and Ophelia’s breasts. This is why I love Shakespeare. He can be both hilarious and serious within the span of a single monologue. So, when I see a very serious movie that applies very dirty humor, I think “Yes. This great.”
Humor must be had in any great work of literature or film, I believe. It is what allows us to connect at a more visceral level to what’s going on. Laughing makes our bellies shake, our voices boom out. Which offers a nice balance to contemplating the movie’s more intellectual themes.
So, remember, next time you pop open a cold one and get ready to watch a dirty movie dealing primarily with sex, that this experience was made possible and popular by the dirty mind of William Shakespeare. He’s a dude’s dude.
Three and half hours after picking it up, I had finished the book. Its brevity shocked me, almost frightened me. Yet the entire story was there. And more than just the story contained within the pages, but an entirely other story. One of the human race and its dark past. Of its desires and hypocrisy and self-loathing.
Before reading Oates for the first time, I considered her merely a feminist writer. After finishing her novella Beasts, I can confirm that to be true. She does not, however, explore femininity in an obtuse way, merely as a strong opposite of masculinity. Instead, it is merely a shade of humanity, or rather, many shades and very complex. In the book and in much of her work, she seems to explore what it is like to be a woman. I say this only having read little of her work and hearing much about it as well. For that reason, I cannot claim to understand her or dissect her work. I can, however, admire it. Also, I want to read more of her. She’s published over one hundred novels and this one, published in 2003, is merely a coin dropped in the fountain for this prolific author. That’s why it amazes me that despite her having written so many books, she has yet to dilute her work with disappointing poor quality.
I encountered her first in my English literature class in a short story called “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” It recounts the story of self-obsessed Connie, who despises her parents and sisters and yearns for more sexual respect. She finds, however, a warped reality of what sexuality is. The short story is a very subtle sort of horror, something that creeps upon you and nags your brain. Beasts works much the same way. The story seems rather innocent until you realize that something about this story, this narrator, this confession…. is very, very wrong.
The twisted ideal of sexuality carries into this work as well. A young college student Gillian falls in love with her narcissistic poetry teacher. She and her friends swoon over him and his artistic French wife. They, however, hold dangerous philosophies that begin to affect the girls. And there is some wickedness brewing between them.
Beyond that, the novel is difficult to explain. From outside, it seems almost just about a silly little girl with a crush on her professor. The implications go much further than that. From page one, Oates has full control. She knows where she wants the story to go and it will go into Hell. And whether you like it or not, you’re going too.
I began reading, merely passively. I admired her prose, which was both simple, elegant, and impossibly complex. Within each sentence is a treasure cove of symbolism and stark, dark beauty. But I feel, if I were to explicate this novel, it would lose its enigma. That is what made me keep reading until the book was finished. Because easily, I could figure out the symbolic meaning of the fires that some secret arson sets throughout the school year or what the female lead might “represent” or why the poetry teacher is so obsessed with D.H. Lawrence and Ovid. I could figure out all those things, but in those ways, we destroy literature.
Oates, I believe, understands more than anyone else that a good piece of literature, a good story, is not meant to be fully understood. In ways, I am perplexed, yet by simply reading the novel, I understand completely. The author, by subtly placing the cues and clues that English teachers so love to point out, does not mean for the story to be an excavation site. Oates does not wish for fiction to be trivialized into meaning. The story, rather, makes a very distinct impression.
Sure, one can discuss how she uses imagery. How each word affects the mood. But instead, we can learn to be complacent that the book does have an effect. It puts me on edge, even now. I sit in the dark and write this and feel a sort of strange horror creep around me. The book is something like horror, but contains no ghosts. No monsters, vampires, or bloody deeds. Only very human characters, in the cruelest of their renditions.
What alarmed me most about the plot was not the fact that it was riddled with sexual abuse, though not evidently. There are passages in which the narrator describes her poetry class. At first, it is a class where girls go to ogle the professor. But soon they fight for his attention. They write the whole truth of their lives: every relationship, every anatomical flaw, every incestuous sexual encounter. They lay all this out in poetry which the professor praises. Yet I noticed that as each poured more of themselves into the poetry, they became less. Small details, that Oates writes, cues this. They became skinnier and less healthy, a bit more deranged. They live only in poetry.
Every single one of these girls becomes a victim of their own infatuations. By the end of the novel, the main protagonist is no longer the sweetly naive girl from the start of the story. She is transformed into a husk of pure obsession and is crazed by her jealousy, rage, and longing.
Even now, I find myself trying to make sense of everything she did in the story that it would have such a great effect on me. Understand, the story itself would seem to me frivolous and pointless if told by anyone other than her. If you were to go read the plot on Wikipedia, you might not see anything special. I doubt it. But when you read the novel, it affects you in a disturbing way. Such is Oates’ gift.
In conclusion, I admire Oates for her subtlety and power. She understands her entire story before it begins. Every word is meticulously chosen to create the atmosphere of the work which might always be compelling while slightly unnerving. Either way, every writer can learn something from her stories. She has mastered the ability to forever confound English teachers by wrapping her stories so tightly with symbolism, with meaning, that they can never truly be unwound. Nor should they ever be.
What is the purpose of discovering the secrets of the universe? We surely cannot ever take them seriously.
When I first started out, the advice I got the most was, “Write what you know.” This did not make much sense to me, since I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to write fantasy. And it’s a good thing I started out writing fantasy because it forces you to figure out the “rules” to your world, which, even if you’re writing a novel set in reality, you still must do.You still twist reality enough to constitute the need for rules. But here I was, 11, writing fantasy, yet people told me to “write what I knew.”
I thought that meant people wanted me to write about my life,which was boring. I might only be able to describe the highlight of my week as a Pokemon card game. Nothing major was happening in my life at the time, nothing I wanted to write about or felt comfortable writing, anyways. But now I see the purpose of the rule. It provides a sort of practice.
If how to describe something mundane, like a cookie or the scenery of a room, you’ll be better at expressing the minutiae of life. Which will make it much easier when you try to tackle larger ideas, you can write them better. When you conceived an immensely complicated but significant idea, you’ll know how to put that idea into words. But you have to start with describing the concrete before you can the abstract. From the concrete, you learn stylistic techniques that will help you in the long run.
The same rule goes for stories. If you begin writing stories about your day, your daily routine– how you bush your teeth and wait for your dog to poop in your neighbor’s lawn during your morning walk– it’s not a waste of time. Not many people many want to read such tedious chronicles of the most basic activities, but this will train you to be able to describe big-set scenes in the future.
Now, if you want to ever get published, you will one day have to write something someone will want to read. When writing without the intent of publication, however, you needn’t worry about the fickle tastes of the readers. Instead, do you. Write about whatever interests you, even if it’s butterflies. Spend pages describing a tin roof or the bark on a tree. In a published novel, this might not fly.
But the honest truth is, you’ll need to write thousands and thousands (hundreds of thousands) of words meant for fiction before writing anything “good.” This is not to demean you. It’s just a fact. Writers must write for a good long time before finding their voice. It’s a sort of writerly puberty, if you’d like to think of it like that. Sure, for a while, you’ll speak high-pitched, but then eventually you’ll get some hair on your chest. You know who had a lot of hair on his chest? Ernest Hemingway. No, seriosuly, he did.
So you spend a lot of time honing your craft, writing whatever you’d like. You must do this before attempting to write for the market or else you’ll start copying others’ styles and stories. You’ll be the writer writing paranormal romances and stories called The Boy with the Penguin Tattoo.
You have to find your voice before really delving into the selling part of writing. And that’s just if you want to get read. But if you’re just starting out, write for yourself, then focus on others. Write about the little things that worry you, then you’ll have practice to tackle the huge existential questions you might face in the future.
For the record, I would definitely read The Boy with the Penguin Tattoo.
Whenever studying classics, I notice that authors of centuries past went on symbol trips. I’m talking, symbol-overload. Everything symbolizes something about the rest of the story and furthermore, it becomes super obvious what the symbols are and what they symbolize.Some like Herman Melville do this with finesse: the white hale in Moby Dick encompasses so many different symbols, means so many different things. Remember, though, that some symbols are universal.
It’s nighttime and raining. It’s midnight on the Ides of March. Will something sicked go down? *Cue black cat and witch, cackling while she stirs her bubbling cauldron.*
While two-hundred years ago, this was acceptable, don’t place these overused trappings into your story, cause you’ll be headed straight for Clicheville. When writing in contemporary times, you need to use symbols more intelligently.
As a writer, it is your duty to present a story previously untold. Readers look, however, not just for a surprising plot, but also surprises throughout the story. The best way to do this is to create surprises in description. Make will blow your reader away. So, what I mean is… don’t describe a street by looking at a street. A character knows what a typical street looks like. Don’t tell us what makes the street a street, but sets it apart
Similarly, don’t give your villain an eye patch and a East European accent. Readers see this and know what to expect. So give them the unexpected. When describing someone during winter, don’t bother talking about their clothing if they’re wearing normal clothing. If they’re sporting a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops, that’s worth a mention.
Symbols work the same way. This age of colorism, where red= passion, black= death, and blue= the human psyche, is over. Don’t rely on past conventions. Instead, create your own. Let your symbols be more than just symbols.Let nothing merely symbolize something if it does not truly play a part in your story.
If your main character is the representation of the white male demographic, there’s a problem. that’s a flat character meant only to symbolize something. Don’t do that. I repeat, don’t do that. It’s fine if your characters do “symbolize” some things, but create real characters, not just manifestations of “the effects of drugs on society” and “father-son relationships.” People are more complicated than can be verbalized in a theme, so write people, not characters.
That’s all for today. While it’s important to study literature of the past, remember that you’re writing for a new generation of readers who may not be amused by you placing a large nose on a “nosy” character.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you notice a decline in apparent symbolism in modern books compared to books written one hundred years ago? Or has symbolism become more vague, suggesting rather “signifying” something? Share your thoughts below.
(A tribute to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Perhaps you recall the outline of this poem.)
We real geek. We
Squeak speak. We
Fly brooms. We
Raid tombs. We
Trade cards. We
Quote bards. We
Read long. We
When I was in elementary school, the Book Mobile rolled into the parking lot every day around 2:30. Waiting outside in the gravel parking lot, we carried our old books in our dumpy book bags. Bags with vinyl depictions of Power Rangers and Harry Potter. The old bus was outfitted with shelves, a small, cramped desk placed behind the driver’s seat. It kicked up gravel when it pulled up, and we hustled inside, especially when it was raining.
Standing inside the Book Mobile, we stood in a single file line, pressing our bodies into the shelves every time someone needed to pass by. The books we checked out were kid’s books: The Magic Tree House, The Hardy Boys. My mom wouldn’t let me read Goosebumps, because it was too scary, too gruesome. I hated horror books at that age anyways, anything too real. I guess now that’s pretty ironic.
This was my first experience with the library, waiting every Tuesday for the Book Mobile to bumble into the gravel parking lot. They’ve paved over that parking lot now; the Book Mobile sits outside the library, and I don’t know if it visits the elementary school anymore.
When I’m running behind on writing an essay or a column for The Hornet Herald, I visit the library. First, I read. I read funny books by Steve Barry and Ian Michael Black and Lewis Grizzard. And then I take out my laptop, get down to work. It’s mostly quiet there in the library, especially upstairs in the Nonfiction section. Along with the essays on poetry and the biographies. There’s wifi too, which is more distracting than helpful.
Facebook has increased the percentage of turned-in-late essays in my grade by 76%. I made that statistic up—writing blog posts or writing columns, you’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to make up stories and anecdotes and quotes, because all that matters is the story. And if a story seems true, then truth doesn’t really matter.
After spending so much time in the library, I’ve learned something: old books smell so good.
I love buying books, especially old books. Because there are some books you must own, really own. To share with friends and carry. And keep on shelves to show everyone what books you own. And unless a book I really want to read has just been released, I will buy the book used.
But if I ever get published and visit the library, I won’t say anything to anyone. I’ll sometimes visit my work, to flip through the pages. I hope it begins to smell musty, the cover get battered, and the pages yellow. Because to me, that sort of wear-and-tear is a distinction. Sometimes, I flip through the books I check out and wrench out receipts from past users, reading the foreign names of people who traveled this journey before me. I wonder whether or not the book made them feel quite the same way. I wonder if this book meant anything to them.
I love the library, because it is like a home I’ve yet to move into.
But mostly I love the library because it’s free. Without the library, I probably would not be writing. It’s not that my parents didn’t buy me books, but how can any parent have the expense to satiate a kid’s imagination. I didn’t just want one book, ever. I wanted to read them all. I wanted to sit all day and night and scour the shelves and discover and learn and excavate through the archives of storytelling pasts.
Every book in a library is a story and picking up that book, you’re sharing it with the hundreds of people who read the book before you. I love finding white check-out slips hidden between the pages as bookmarks. Names of people who shared these emotions with me, this story.
Sometimes, I go to visit others who call it home. Sometimes, I revisit my favorites, pulling them from the shelves, indulging in surreptitious sniffs. Sometimes, I come with a list and a sturdy face, tracking down books I’d like to read. Other times, I don’t have a list: no names. I just wander around, looking at the titles, bringing home books I’ve never heard of. I’m a biting, critical reader, so sometimes I’ll leave the book alone. Sometimes, I fall in love.
And I hope maybe I’ll be able to find a book with my name on it on those shelves. And I’ll hope someday, some kid will pick it up, flip through its pages and think, “Old books smell so good.”