For a while now, I have kept a journal of quotes and passages that are important to me. These quotes are not just memorable lines from books I’ve read and enjoyed; they are words that I cling to during hard times, during times of grief, and even times of celebration and success. And sometimes, they even come from books I didn’t enjoy. As I looked back at some of these quotes, I realized that my life almost could be charted through the books I’ve read and through the quotes that have become an indelible part of me. So, I thought a good way to begin my blogging journey would be to write a series of posts (published every Friday for the next six weeks) that focus on these favorite passages and the most influential books in my life.
I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading, so I can’t point to one particular book that “hooked” me. I do, however, remember the first book I ever read on my own (Little Witch’s Big Night), so I guess I could count that. When I was a child, reading was an escape, one that allowed me to travel without leaving home and to experience adventures that weren’t possible in a single-parent household. We didn’t take vacations, and I often spent a lot time alone, especially during the summer. So, I read. Reading will always be a sort of escape for me, I think, but as I grew, I began to gravitate toward books that dealt with issues I faced in my own life. I wanted books that provided words for things I couldn’t yet describe, and I wanted books that allowed me to explore the complicated and confusing ideas I had. Then, when I had enough of the real world, I would look once more to those grand adventures and fantasy. Ultimately, I realized that the books I read (the ones that really stick with me, anyway) reveal something about my life at the time and what I needed from my books and even the world around me. I was dating for the first time. I had a fight with a childhood friend. I was a graduate student. I was recently married. I was grieving. I was hopeful. I was teaching four classes and managing an overwhelming service load. All of these phases of my life are represented in the books I read. In a way, someone could read me and the significant moments in my life by looking at the books that were most relevant to me.
I first read Gone with the Wind when I was thirteen. Then, I read it once every year for eight years. So, yeah, this book is pretty important to me. At first, I liked the book for the melodrama, the love triangle, and the satisfyingly unresolute ending during a time in my life when many of the books I encountered ended with happily-ever-after. And I continued to re-read the book because it was long. That may seem weird, I know. But when you live in a small town with a small library and have little money to buy books, a long book (even one you’ve read before) is pretty important.
As I re-read, I came to recognize and admire the strength and contrasts of the women in the novel: Melanie and Scarlett. There were things I learned from each of these fictional women and, as a teenager, characteristics I hoped to one day possess. In Melanie, I saw a quiet courage and determination that others often underestimated. She loved unconditionally and valued the strengths of others in spite of their flaws. In Scarlett, a headstrong (but naive) will to survive in a world that was far from ideal and the courage to take from the world what she could. I possibly admired those characteristics because I, too, was headstrong and was what others called “bossy”–a word I hate to hear used to describe girls. Although much later I began to see the problems with the novel (especially in terms of race and gender), I still found myself turning to some of my favorite passages. And I drew strength from one in particular.
“We bow to the inevitable. We’re not wheat, we’re buckwheat! When a storm comes along it flattens ripe wheat because it’s dry and can’t bend with the wind. But ripe buckwheat’s got sap in it and it bends. And when the wind has passed, it springs up almost as straight and strong as before.”
Whether I was dealing with bullying in school, some of the unfair and harsh realities of life that no child should ever encounter, struggling with years of infertility, accepting lost dreams, the loss of my father, or even creating new dreams, these words encouraged me. They were the first words I read (at least that I can remember) that acknowledge this truth: life can and often will flatten us. There’s no “if” in this passage, but a “when.” Storms happen. To everyone.
Gone with the Wind is an important book for me, but it was not this book that gave me strength to overcome any of the obstacles I’ve encountered. Rather, this was one of the books that helped me to recognize and to value the strength I’ve always had. And that’s what books and stories do; they allow us to see ourselves and the world around us in a new light, from a different perspective. They also help us to create and re-write our own stories. Though I have faced many difficult situations in my life, I decided long ago that I would not be a victim. Instead, I would bend like buckwheat to weather the storms, but in the end, I would be strong enough to stand again.