Monday, January 27, 2014

"Underground, the story continued."

When I was a kid, I lived in books. I don't just mean that I was constantly reading, that I always had a book in my bag for the car, that I perfected the art of reading under the desk during the boring parts of class without alerting the teacher, that I read every night by flashlight in bed, evading the notice of my parents with varying degrees of success. 

I mean that I lived in books. When I found favorites, I'd reread them again and again. I'd make my stuffed animals or my dolls reenact my favorite scenes. I'd make my friends reenact my favorite scenes with me - we used to play Birnam Wood at recess. (NB to future nerds: do not tell Sister Nathalie that the convent is Dunsinane when she asks what you're doing carrying around sticks. It won't go well.) I'd put myself in those scenes - I was always my favorite character, and I'd retell the story.

If I had known, at that age, what fan fiction was, I probably would have written it. Not to change the story or make sure that everything worked out okay for my favorite ships, but to have my favorite bits, those moments of reading that exploded my heart, on a constant repeating loop. To make them last forever. To live in the story.

I think about reading like that, and those are the books that made me. Sacred Texts. Books like the Prydain Chronicles, and the Dark is Rising series (especially The Grey King) and A Wrinkle in Time. I think the last book that I really read like that was Tam Lin. After a while, there was too much else taking up room in my head. I still read voraciously, but I lost the ability to truly immerse myself in a story.

Every so often, I find books that I know, if I had read them earlier, would have joined that list of Sacred Texts: When You Reach Me, The Last Unicorn, All Our Pretty Songs. There's something about them that speaks to the part of me that makes me who I am, that moment of recognition of a truth that goes beyond what is fact or real to simply be what is.

I didn't read Watership Down when I was younger. I remember seeing the movie, and remember being heartbroken by it, and so when I realized it was a book, too, my reaction was pretty much no. Why break my heart again on purpose? I thought about picking it up a few years ago, when Stories came out, and I realized I shared a table of contents with Richard Adams, but at that point I figured I was too old to really appreciate talking animal stories.

But then one of my friends, whose opinion I trust when it comes to books, raved about Watership Down. And later that week, I came across a good used copy, so I picked it up. Last week I read it, and I wish I had done so before. It was the closest thing to reading with that same sense of wonder that I did when I was younger. I know if I had read it then I would have made my friends play rabbits, and I would have been Hazel. (Though I know, now, for good or ill I'm much more Fiver.) It would have been a book that made me who I was. 

Even now, I know I'll go back and reread it. Partially because it's beautiful, but also, for the writerly moments. The way the mythology of the rabbits works. The primroses. For the reminder that the right story is always a gift, no matter when it is read.

7 comments:

  1. I love this, and love to learn that someone else used to surreptitiously read books under the desk during class!

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    1. The only thing I liked about our uniform skirts was how well they held the book. And thanks!

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  2. I was fortunate enough to read Watership Down when it first came out. Fortunate, because it was put on the English reading list the following year (I found that formal studies in reading appreciation were as as good a way as any to kill said appreciation.)

    On reader immersion: did you know there was an RPG called 'Bunnies and Burrows' that was based on Watership Down?

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    1. I didn't, but I can well believe it exists.

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  3. I used to read like that as a kid too ... and for the life of me I can't do animal stories, or movies, even if I know they have a happy ending. Just as well there's squillions of other stories out there to read. :D

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  4. I didn't see the movie until after college, and I read the book Watership Down in high school or middle school. It remains one of my favorite books, though once I tell people it happens to be about rabbits, their interest wanes rapidly. Such a shame...

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  5. Great write up and wonderful post. I love to read your post very much. A big thanks for sharing with us !!

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