Monthly Archives: February 2014

in which I read Tuck Everlasting

One of the benefits of being a student of children’s literature is that you get to revisit a lot of books from your childhood. Some of these books I read so long ago it feels like another lifetime, but I remember the way they made me feel, and it’s interesting to compare that to how they make me feel now as a sometimes adult.

Recently, I revisited Tuck Everlasting1 by Natalie Babbitt, a novel I read for the first time in elementary school and have reread several times since then. Each time I revisit it, my affection for this skinny little book has grown, until this week it exploded in a mess of inarticulate feelings all over the freshmen I was supposed to be teaching it to2. Because every time I read it, it’s different. Or rather, I’m different, and my experience adjusts accordingly. In Tuck Everlasting, the difference stands out most strongly in the character I see myself as.

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The first time I read Tuck Everlasting, I was Winnie Foster. I must have been around ten myself, with that same sort of righteous indignation3 stored up inside my heart. And I felt the weight of everything, the impossible weight of entering the double digits, or starting to understand that there were forces at work in the world that I could not control. Why couldn’t we all live forever? Why did beautiful things have to end? Why couldn’t you drink the water and live forever with the carefree boy you found in the woods? I understood that things had to die, but I couldn’t understand why.

The next time I read it, many years later in high school, I was Jesse. Barefoot, bounding Jesse, wildly in love with everything about living, even the parts I didn’t like. I felt like I was always bubbling up with something, like there was this fountain inside me that would never run dry. There was nothing at work beyond the confines of my small sphere of existence, which would never cease to be amazing. Time did not exist. I felt invincible. I wasn’t, but I felt like I was, like I could never be irreparably broken, inside or out.

Then the next time, starting my second semester of grad school, I was Miles. A little bit heavier with what I’d left behind and carrying around empty holes that weighed just as much as the things and people that used to fill them. Not quite certain what I was or where I was meant to fit in the world, and not sure how to go about puzzling all that out. And I had started to understand not just the forces of the world and how they worked on me, but that I was a part of them. Where I sat on the wheel. How it carried me. And that someday I’d fall off it, just like everyone does.

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art by Jeremy Aaron Moore

And then I read this book last week, and I thought about who I am now.

Now I’m sort of all of them. I’m old and I’m young. One day I feel indestructible. The next like I’m already in pieces that can never be put back together. I am Tuck, with regrets and things I wish I had not done. I am Mae, trying to hold things together that maybe can’t be held. I am Gran, who hears fairy music in the woods. Some days I’m even the Man in the Yellow Suit, aware of the fact that I could exploit and hurt those around me if I wanted to.

While Tuck Everlasting is most often billed as a children’s book about the perils of living forever, really it’s a book about how we all live every day on terms with life’s big incomprehensible ideas, and it gives no easy answers to any of the questions it asks. Because in the end, there is no easy answer. To anything. It’s most truthful in that sense. I don’t understand everything about living and dying—no one does. Some days, I can wrap my brain around the immensity of it and have a few minutes of peace and clarity and understanding about how the earth moves. Other days, it totally freaks me out.

Today while discussing this book with my freshmen, some of them expressed dissatisfaction with the ending *SPOILER ALERT*—they wanted to know why Winnie didn’t drink the water and live forever with the Tucks. What happened between Jesse leaving her with a bottle of water on her front lawn and Tuck finding her tombstone eighty years later? They felt like something was missing.

For me, there is nothing dissatisfying about this ending. In fact, I think it is the perfect end for this perfect book. Because the answer to the question “What happened?” is that life happened. Winnie’s life. There didn’t have to be one big idea, one revelation, one moment of decision or impact where she realized truly that death and life are interchangeable. There didn’t have to be one thing that made her realize that life with death was better than life without it. Because life is that moment—life and its great bit pile of good things and bad things and the things that come in between.

As the Man in the Yellow Suit says, “Like all magnificent things, it is very simple.” And then again, it’s not.

  1. If you don’t know or haven’t read Tuck Everlasting, please rectify that immediately. Not to oversell it, but it’s a staggering work of impossible genius.
  2. Contrary to how this makes it sounds, my freshers and I did have a very coherent and amazing discussion about Tuck Everlasting today. It was awesome enough to inspire this post, actually. But I do have a lot of feelings, which they were on the receiving end of in the last few minutes of class.
  3.  I was totally that kid who said “I am running away!” And then made it to the corner before coming back. It was the principle of the thing.
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in which I celebrate valentine’s day

For the first eighteen years of my life, I lived in the same place. Same city. Same neighborhood. Same house. The biggest move I made was from my upstairs bedroom to the downstairs one.

But then I moved away to college, and never really stopped moving. In the last five years, I’ve moved five times. Salt Lake to Logan, Logan to England, England back to Logan, Logan to Chicago, Chicago to Boston. So I’ve lived in some great places, and had some great times, and met some amazing people.

But when you move that much, you don’t have enough time to really make friends. You find people you have things in common with, have some wild adventures with them, but then you leave and fall out of touch, only occasionally communicating on Facebook. I have friends from childhood I still talk to pretty consistently, the friends of the life-long variety, but even that’s different when you only have texting and emails.

This is not necessarily a bad way to live. I met some really amazing people and had some great times, but it also taught me to be self-sufficient—I learned to function independently, go to things on my own, and be my own emotional crutch when things went south.

These last two years in Boston have been the longest I’ve stayed anywhere in a while. And I’m starting to feel like I actually live here instead of just passing through. I know the subway system. I’m no long alarmed when traffic seems to be coming from twelve directions at once. I have heard the phrase “wicked hard” used ironically. I know what people mean when they say Allston Christmas.

And, as I realized the other night, I have friends here.

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Real, great, honest-to-God friends. Friends who I drag on my crazy adventures. Friends who laugh at my references even when they don’t get them. Friends who do more than tolerate me, friends who are friends for more reasons than just shared classes or living in the same place.

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Friends who sit on my bed and eat ice cream with me when I had a crummy day, or talk me down from my anxiety, or encourage my weirdness, or don’t make fun of me when I really let my fangirl show. Friends who pick me up from the airport. Friends who listen to me. Friends who like me.

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So this year, on Valentine’s Day, I’m celebrating my friends, who I love and adore and am so thankful to have in my life. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone—here’s celebrating all the weird kinds of love in your life.

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in which I read my first ever book on a Kindle

When a large part of your identity is defined by being a lover of books, a question you get asked a lot is “So how do you feel about Kindles1?”

My general policy in life is you cannot hate on something you have not tried/done/read/experienced for yourself2, and since I have never owned or used an eReader of any sort, my answer to this question is usually something along the lines of “So long as you’re reading, I don’t care how you’re doing it.” I did not feel I could have an educated opinion on the Kindle until I had experienced one for myself.

And then yesterday, while in the sagging afternoon hours of the third snow day of the year, I read my first ever book on a Kindle.

It was not my Kindle. It was my friend Milton’s Kindle, which she kindly lent me so I could read an advanced copy of the third book in a series I really like. The eBook was both free and available about a month and a half before the book is released, so how could I say no? All I needed was some way to read it. Which is where Milton and her Kindle came in.

Because it was an uncorrected proof, there were formatting errors that had nothing to do with the Kindle and everything to do with the fact that the book isn’t even out yet. The formatting went wonky in a few places so everything looked like beat poetry3, and every time a word started with an F, that F would get its own line before the paragraph then continued on the next. Also the headers that were meant to go on the top of the page would randomly show up in the middle every so often.

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the cover of my first-ever Kindle book. In case you were wondering.

But I don’t blame the Kindle for this. Here’s what I do blame the Kindle for.

As I was reading, I realized I have trained my brain to understand words read on a screen differently from words read printed in a book. Because of my own biases, words on a page have precedence. I take them more seriously. They feel like a book that other people have read and edited and said “This is worthy of your reading.” Words on a screen feel like a Word Document a friend has sent me for my thoughts and changes. I am notorious for never spotting typos in books if I’m not looking for them, but I kept seeing them when reading on the Kindle. I also found myself editing sentence structure in my head. I don’t do this when I read physical books.

The Kindle also reminded me how impossibly old school I am. Reading on it made me feel like I was in a science fiction movie, and I kept reaching to turn the page only to find my fingers running into a screen instead.

But in the end, I still liked the book. I didn’t feel like the screen was a barrier between me and the story or the characters. And overall, I don’t think my reading experience was impeded by the fact that I was reading an eBook instead of a physical book.

So now that I have read a book on a Kindle, I feel like I can have an educated opinion about the Kindle v. print book.

What’s my opinion, you may ask?

So long as you’re reading, I don’t care how you’re doing it.

 

  1. Or Nooks or iPads or any sort of eBook platforms.
  2. Most of the reason I read Twilight was so I could feel confident in hating it.
  3. Which really made me giggle, actually. Beat poetry battle scenes are excellent.
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