Day #4 An Open Letter to the Power of Truth in Fiction
I was in fourth grade when I read To Kill a Mockingbird.
I carried it with me dog-eared and though it was a school copy, I wrote in the margins with my number two pencil underlining words and trying to gulp down the significance of a story I never lived. I never returned that book and I wish I had that copy today to see in those loopy scribbles what my nine-year old soul grappled with.
I’ve read it countless times since then, but as much as I love it, it has never been the same as my first.
My love affair with literature started as a child, in the melodic cadence of my mother’s voice floating over me like a song as I buried into her lap, but my understanding of how a story could mean something beyond my fourth grade nothing was aroused with Scout and Jem, I looked at Atticus and saw the kind of person I wanted to be, wise to the world but not crushed by it.
It was the first time I remember moving past the entertainment of a story and sinking into the meaning and power of words to help me live a better story.
I found myself face to face with a vulgar and beautiful world where ordinary heroism could only be seen when the tragic and grotesque rose up against it.
Every triumphant character needs a worthy adversary and suddenly they were more than dragons or monsters, they were our very thoughts and ideas. The enemy could be within our own hearts, beating in the membranes of our prejudices, our fears, our ignorance or our pride. The power of story to reveal hidden ugly depths surging beneath racism and fear and oppression was a wise benefactor, investing in me, in a way the pedantic children’s books with tidy lessons had not.
I learned that to read deep and well, you give yourself to every character, like a marriage of souls, you invest in their lives.
I felt privileged when entrusted with the inner thoughts of characters, to sit in on their conversations, and map their hearts as they shared their lives with me.
Because you can read a book or you can love a book and there is a difference.
You trust the characters to be noble or wretched or both. You seethe and hate them, wishing with every page the author’s final damnation of their wickedness. You prod them along with the foresight of a wizened mentor and wish they would grasp what you’ve come to know chapters ago. You see the vanity or the grief, or the confusion in their faces as you turn each page.
You live as a character in the very pages, because a story done well will bring out soul matters. The marrow of our combined human experience and the very reason we are better for having read and understood.
It is the reason we cannot turn the light off even though the hours fade from night until morning, that we stagger under the loss of characters and mourn when we lose them over and over each time we read.
It is the reason we cannot pass a stack of books at a garage sale without stopping to finger through them, always looking for treasure.
It is the reason we find ourselves going back to love worn pages and trying again to get lost in the passages like a reunion.
It is the reason we try to make the last chapter last longer, to slow down because you know the end is coming and you will close the spine and you’ll never be the same again.
This post originally appeared as a Five Minute Friday on the prompt:” Last” in August of 2013 but I just reread To Kill A Mockingbird this past year with my 14 year old son and I loved seeing it through his perspective. It was like the first time all over again so I dragged this old post out and dusted it off. That’s like a thing, right? Just think how resourceful and recycle-y I am.
I also can neither confirm nor deny the fact that I stayed up way past a reasonable hour last night reading (ahem) and could not manage a blog post with words and sentences and making sense. I thought it a bit premature to quit the #31days 3 days in so here you go. I am going to bed after just one more chapter tonight… I promise…just one more….