Stories have been on my mind a lot the last few days. In some form or fashion, they usually are pretty close to my train of focus but, the last week or so, I’ve been craving them.  Not only have I been craving writing them, I’ve been craving thinking about them, talking about them—just being near them. On a personal level, the creation of stories undoubtedly kept me sane through a very difficult childhood. I do not think I would have reached adulthood as well adjusted as I have without stories. But, even without my painful experiences as a child, stories are very special things; as I think about my lifelong affair with them, I remember that a good story’s arms can offer us everything from peace and comfort to joy and hope.

I’ve read a whole bunch of wonderful and beautiful stories in my life and am craving the chance to discuss them, to give those pages filled with imaginary wonder life and substance.  Maybe you’ve read some of the books I’d like to share, maybe you haven’t. Best of all–maybe you know of another one that’s not on my “Life Favorites List” that you wouldn’t mind sharing with me!  Characters can be so real, and have the ability to transform your life for a few hours or a few days or years!

Bridge to Terabithia:  This is a classic and you’ve probably already read it–you were probably required to in school. But if you haven’t read it in several years, you have no idea what you’re missing, and you need to immediately re-read it.  It is a treasure. It was the first book I read that I didn’t know if I was going to like one of the main characters.  When she beat Jess at the race he’d trained all summer for,  Leslie started off on the wrong foot with me. But then I realized that she epitomized the greatest story of our lives–how one human being can totally change another.  Being different ,stepping out on the limb,  embracing the things that make her unique were all things that made Leslie so wonderful: she was bold, she was unpredictable, but she was connected to something very few people are: her imagination and in sharing that creativity with Jess, Leslie lifted him up and taught him to believe in himself in a way he hadn’t before she beat him at the race.  I hated her fate but I remember my heart overflowing with tenderness and joy on the last few pages when Mary Bell finally becomes her big brother’s princess and I was so excited about all the new and different adventures that Jess and Mary Bell would have, different because the imaginations of the ones creating the adventures were different.  Different, but no less spectacular, no less special.

 

Stacy’s Big Crush (Baby Sitter’s Club series):  Okay, this book requires some background to fully appreciate how special it is to me.  I went, for a very brief time, to a private school in Memphis. I was fully convinced that my Bible teacher was my soul mate.  He was so beautiful.  Our love affair started off on a terribly embarrassing note.  At the time, I had braces. On my very first day of school (the date we were destined to meet for the first time), I sat at the lunch table, so super excited because right after lunch was my first class with HIM!  I couldn’t wait!  I’d already started planning the wedding and I was thinking quite seriously about what I should say to him first.  Would he like me?  I hoped he would.  I mean, girls, it was real. I totally had it bad. And I was totally ready.

BUT THEN.

All of a sudden, sitting there at the lunch table, all by myself, the unthinkable happened.  One end of my braces decided to pop loose and poke me in the jaw. It was downright painful. And, well, I couldn’t talk good for one thing and for another, my jaw protruded like I had a pencil stuck in it. There was no getting around it, I needed to tell someone and call home.  But who to tell??  I made my way to the lunch teacher, and told her. She told me to go on to my next class, and tell that teacher.  WHAT??!  My next class was the man who was far cuter than Brad Pitt and Keith Urban put together. Did she REALLY expect me to waltz into his class and say, “Hi.  I’m Tiffini, your new student/soul mate and, oh, by the way, I have this wire poking me in the jaw.  Could you please help me fix it? Thanks.”  No, no. Oh, yes, yes.  I went to the bathroom and hid, thinking I’d just skip the class.  But my jaw—it hurt, and also, what if I skipped and my soul mate/teacher found out I’d skipped?  Then he’d be required by school policy to scold me.  That would not be very conducive to our future relationship.  Dang it.  I had to go to class. So I shuffled my feet, one after the other, swallowed the 3,223,894 butterflies that kept flying from my stomach to my throat and back and made my way to HIS class. He sat at his desk, eating.  When I walked in,  I smiled nervously.

“Hello. Can I help you?”  he asked.

“Hi. Hi.  My name is Tiffini.  I — I’m new here, and I think this is my next class…” I pulled out my schedule to prove that he and I really were meant to be together. He nodded. “Oh, okay.”

I reluctantly pointed out the wire sticking in my jaw, and asked for help.

And he led me to his office, where I called home. Horrifically, no one was there (this was pre-cell phone). So we went back to his class and he gave me the desk closest to his (because he SO recognized that I was indeed his soul mate).  Class started and he interrupted it twice to lead me to the office to call home; no one ever was there.  I had to wait til school was out.  But, after this initial meeting, my newfound soul mate and I got along brilliantly. He told me I was an excellent reader and often asked me to read the Bible aloud to him, undoubtedly because he was so enthralled with my voice.  Well, beautiful love stories usually have tragic endings.  My family moved a few weeks later but NOT before I gave him a copy of a book I’d written.  Once we moved, I wrote him a letter.  The letter’s INTENT was to ask for my book back (what book? I wrote a book? Really? Oh, well, I didn’t care, he could have it but it was a valid excuse to write him) but what the letter ACTUALLY did was spill my guts to him.  I wrote it on pink stationary and doused it with perfume. I am so not kidding. I told him everything but I love you (because the boy has to say that first, you know). Then I actually MAILED it. And promptly freaked out, once it was too late to stop the mailman from delivering it.

Anyway, right after this, I got my hands on “Stacy’s Big Crush.”  In the book, Stacy loves her teacher and is bound and determined to marry him. She tells him so in letters.  She thinks his every move is directed at her.  She is totally in love. She even writes him a poem (which, thank God, I did -not- do) and dots all the i’s in it with hearts. She is gone. Very, very gone.

And I was SOOOOOO her.  My mom kept coming into my room because I was laughing so freaking hard at Stacy’s descriptions of both his perfect-ness and her undying love for him.  There were a couple of times when Stacy’s boldness made me stuff my head and red face under a pillow so that I wouldn’t have to watch her be decimated by the totally clueless teacher. Several times, my family heard me say things like, “oh, noooo, nooo, Stacy, nooo.” I mean, I felt every word of this book, I really did.  When, at the end, the teacher told her she’d have to find another soul mate (jerk),  I cried my eyes out. I had never before experienced the whole collection of emotions as deeply as I did during this book.

It. Was.  Priceless.

And it helped me heal.

The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert.  This book changed my life. If you want an in-depth explanation, ask me for one, but suffice it to say for now that it left me drained, and yet with the lasting sense of hope because no matter what i might have experienced afterward, I was not in a concentration camp.  It was life-altering and it should be required reading.

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught (and pretty much every other book she’s written).  There are just some books that have such warm and amazing imagery that they leave you longing for more.  Five hundred pages is simply not enough of Whitney and Clayton.  I have read this book so many times I about have it memorized. Sometimes I even pretend I get to meet Clayton for real.  At one point, Clayton hurts Whitney really, really badly and in a very serious manner.  He fell hard from my esteem for that—but then there’s a scene in which he’s drunk and he confesses to his brother in a very moving and heart-felt fashion that redeemed him to hero status within two pages. And also—when Whitney bravely confronts him and challenges his arrogant claim that he no longer wants her (he really can be a jerk) in his life, I wanted to be Whitney so badly–I wanted her to teach me how to be brave and  sweet at the same time so badly I could almost taste it.  She was fearless–and yet soft.  She was innocent and yet smart enough to match Clayton.  There’s a scene in which the two of them play chess and talk about Whitney’s chhildhood antics. She boldly states that no man, whether duke, prince or king, will ever be her superior and furthermore, there’s nothing a woman can’t do. Clayton responds by wordlessly offering her a cigar. She bursts into laughter—and so did I. Later, she presents him with a ring with two words inscribed on the inside:  My Lord.  Oh, my heart. *sigh*.  I think I’m just going to have to re-read this one again right now, it was so wonderful.

A Rose for Emily by Faulkner.  First of all, I love Faulkner, pretty much anything by him is a guaranteed winner.  That being said, this short story was perhaps my favorite of his writings. In it, a town describes an old woman named Emily who refuses to change anything.  The world progresses—but Emily’s house stays the same. She refuses to pay taxes on her property because of a promise that was made to her great-grandfather decades ago. She lives in the past, quite literally.  But Emily harbors a secret.  And the last few sentences of the story made goosebumps rise on my arms. I read it–then read it again– then read it again until finally I had to go straight away and tell my mom about the story and about this crazy woman who was so scared of change she was willing to commit a crime to prevent it.  Emily was sad. Very, very sad. But I related to her fear of the unknown.  Stability and familiarity breed peace and confidence. When I was a teenager and had just started driving–I didn’t know my own city. I’d head out somewhere and almost always either get lost or have to call the non-emergency police line for directions.  I hated all the different interstates—why couldn’t there just be ONE choice? Who knew whether Broadway was on 440 or 40? And anyway, how the heck did they make all these interstates connect?  It  was an adventure, and a good thing I liked to drive and didn’t mind getting lost. But the other day, I was driving to an unfamiliar location and realized that I know this town. 40, 440, 24 or 65—I know exits on all of them and know that no matter where I am, I can eventually find my way to an interstate. The same interstates that once intimidated me now comfort me because I know that, once on them, I’ll find an exit with which I am familiar. Emily craved that peacefulness, that sense of familiarity and safety. And when time tried to take it from her, she panicked, which would be easy for most of us to do. Faulkner was brilliant.

To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s a classic. You’ve probably read it and know already why it was a classic.  But the feel of small town drama and lives really touched me and was quite beautiful.

The Shack by William Young.  As one of my pastors says, “The idea of God as an old black woman whigs a lot of people out.  -I- was relieved!”   Amen.  This book’s power lies in its description of the Trinity.  It really rocked me.  And it was wonderful.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This is the best book I’ve read this year, and probably one of the best of all time.  It’s main character is not a Jew and does not go to the concentration camps so I was a bit hesitant, because I’ve read too many books that display the German people as victims. This one is different.  I loved the narrator’s voice.  I loved the girl’s family.  And I was really put into the world of the characters.  It was emotional and it was intense, but I was sad to reach the end of the book.

 

There are far too many other books to mention.  I could talk about them for hours. Stories matter because they are capable of taking us out of our daily life and propelling us into another.  Kids put on costumes and make up and fake necklaces to pretend they are an imaginary princess named Cinderella or Belle or Snow White.  They are able to imagine how it would feel to twirl around a ballroom or to hear a fairy godmother say “Biddity boppity boo”.  As adults, though, the ability to so perfectly imagine such a magical world slips further and further away.  Until you open the pages of a book, and simply start reading. Reading puts you inside Cinderella’s castle again, or lets you fly with dragons or go a Harry Potter quest to defeat evil.  It sucks you in and makes you believe, for a little bit, that maybe it’s not all fiction—maybe there really is a happily ever after somewhere and that, maybe, just maybe, that happily ever after can find you.

My seven year old daughter Breathe made an extraordinary accomplishment tonight: she read an entire 197 page book by herself in less than one day.  I was stunned. I was amazed.  I was proud.  I asked her, “Was it fun, reading it?”  and her answer says it all:  “The story was fun.”

 

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