Monday, March 10, 2014

The Beauty of Books: A Journey to Shakespeare

Hundreds of books have molded the kind of writer and reader I am today.  From the historical fiction of Indian Captive to the dark 1984, I can say that the books I love span a smorgasbord of imaginary worlds.

Yet, for all my Musketeers and opera phantoms, few worlds have impacted me the way that The Giver has.

To be honest, when I initially wrote that previous sentence, I ended it with “Shakespeare”.  I was going to get very eloquent about The Tempest and interpreting plays and the majesty of iambic pentameter. After all, it’s Shakespeare week here at Beyond the Trope, and I like to stick with themes.

And then I looked at my bookshelf – those piles of others worlds – and realized that in order for me to ever appreciate Prospero, Iago and Sebastian, I first had to encounter a different world.  Something had to launch me into books that were more involved than the typical elementary readers.

Lois Lowry’s The Giver was one of the first books I read that challenged me, both in terms of reading level and imagination.  I was relatively young when I first read it, and the imagination required to conjure a dystopian world ignited something in my soul. Think of opening the wardrobe in the spare room and finding yourself dealing with dragons – not only is it not quite what you expected, it’s a bit scary.  Jonas’s story is beautiful, but with a velvety, dark side.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I read most of The Giver with my mouth hanging open.  I devoured it like I hadn’t read in weeks, or ever.  Then I sat in a two-day book coma before going straight back and reading it again. My Boxcar Children and Babysitter’s Club books had given me fun stories, but they had never shown me something like this.

Suddenly I had to have more.  I needed more imagination and stranger worlds to wrap my mind around.  This is why I can say The Giver encouraged me to seek out and read more and more difficult books.  That is how I discovered The Tempest, my first Shakespearean love. Afterwards, I immersed myself in the lyrical prose of the master, and I chomped my way through most of his plays and sonnets.

There is nothing wrong with fun, encouraging characters in easy-going stories.  I don’t think I would have noticed if I had continued to read as I had – I could have traipsed on until high school forced greater works on me.  But because of Jonas and his world, I was able to enjoy old English plays before they became mandatory homework assignments.

In my mind, Lowry led to Shakespeare led to everything else that is.  The challenge of reading something new proved to me that the imagination, once awakened, thrives on the beauty of books. If you haven't read The Giver (or anything else by Lowry), go read it!

How have books changed your life?  Do you think your perspective would have been different if you had found different stories as a child?

When Michelle isn't talking to herself and her manuscript in the middle of the local coffee shop, she's generally thinking about food.  (Especially cornbread.)  As much as she loves food, the way to her heart is through words.

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