Friday, October 31, 2014

Friends Who Read

A few weekends ago, I sent a facebook message to a woman I wasn't facebook friends with:
This is, perhaps, an odd message to receive [no duh!]. To put me in context: go back to second grade playing Nancy Drew detectives and swapping chapter book readers. I saw your mother last year at my cousin's wedding and learned that you were at Cornell. I am currently getting my masters at Bucknell in English. Seems we both ended up majoring in reading to some extent.
In the end, I asked if we could get lunch together when I was in town.
I sent this to a girl I had known in childhood, a best friend of sorts from the age of 5 or 6 to the age of 9 when my family moved away from Georgia to Pennsylvania. We had been, what I can only describe as Reading Friends. We weren't too many years into the skill when we became addicted. We read a lot and shared a lot of books, starting with the American Girl Doll stories that accompanied our multiple American Girl Dolls, and continuing into the Nancy Drew chapter books and other adventures. There were sleep overs where we traded books and told stories. There were play dates where we wandered my house in search of secret passages and hidden rooms. There were so many afternoons in the yard of her house and the tree house.
But a friendship started that young, without too many visits... we lost contact.
Curiosity prompted me to write her. What was she doing now? Who did she become? How did she think about the church we attended at the same time? AWANA clubs? The books we used to love? She kindly replied to my strange invitation and on a cold and rainy Ithaca afternoon, she picked me up and we had lunch at her house.
Later, my sister asked me if it was weird. I replied: "No. Not at all." To which, my sister replied, "Now that is weird." Yes. The fact that it was not weird is very weird. And it was not weird for this reason:
We still love all the same things.
The journey we started as kids  had led us, somehow, despite our differences in high school experiences, our choices of colleges, the locations of our growing up, our differences in religious belief and practices, the friends we kept or didn't keep, it all led us to the same tastes and opinions in music, film, tv, books, short stories. And not merely the same tastes but the same reasons for liking and disliking. It wasn't enough that we were deeply committed to questions about young adult dystopias and has a special love for the recent book "Divergent" by Veronica Roth. We had the same reasons for being devastatingly angry with the final novel: too political, unnecessary disruption of universe, lacking in narrative consistency, manipulation of structure for unnatural plot ending, etc.
 These trails were through our whole conversation.
I really couldn't get into Madmen. Here is why. Yes, exactly. I'm more of a Parenthood fan myself even though it makes me cry. Of course, that's the point of Parenthood: real life fighting and lots of crying. Did you go through fantasy in middle school? Oh yes. Lot's of Tolkien and high fantasy.  Let's be honest, I'm still there. Totally. I'm very committed to young adult fiction. I keep it on my shelf to balance the snooty Ivy League book shelves of Goethe and Nietche trying to seem smart. It's still the best stuff out there. Yes. What do you feel about John Green? Good writer. Not sure what to make of him all the time. He seems to be an odd choice but yes, can't argue with his styling.
It seems we were still, as Anne of Green Gables would say, "Kindred Spirits."
Our lunch ran like a love song to reading. Reading matters. What kids love to read matters. It runs as a thread through life and at age 25, two women who at one point both loved Nancy Drew, can sit down with 16years of silence and growing up between them, and find the world they once shared still there, still waiting, still as rich and fascinating as it was when they were kids. 

At the end of our visit, she handed me a book, "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore. "I love this series and have an extra of the first book I wanted to get rid of. But I wanted it to go to a good home. Take it." It was a "high fantasy" book, one from a few years ago that I hadn't heard of. When I sat down with it the next week, I stayed up late to finish it.



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