There’s nothing like cracking open the cover of a new book, with all the excitement and anticipation of a story to be discovered. Books line my shelves like trophies, postcards, old friends, souvenirs of cheap adventures, Total Gyms or hammocks for the mind.
I enjoy most books because I can jump into them, into worlds and experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise know. But every once in a while a sneaky scene or character works backwards, and wiggles out of the pages and into the back of my mind, becoming part of the story I’m living in my everyday life.
If you’ve read here for a while, you may already know the story of O-lan, the dutiful wife of The Good Earth who gives birth and makes a meal for her husband on an extended lunch break before returning to work in the rice fields. She surfaces in my thinking every few years when I am pregnant and wanting to justify extra naps and take-out meals for the family. She’s hardworking and never complaining, and she keeps me in line when I get to feeling sorry for myself.
You’re a total stranger to me if you don’t know that Ma Ingalls is another constant mental companion of mine, also one who cuts me no slack when I get to feeling sorry for myself. I imagine her amazement at my grocery store, at how many miles we can travel in a day, at the number of beauty products this “low-maintenance” girl requires. She reminds me that “Beauty is as beauty does,” that it is not asking too much for me to keep my floor swept, that a life of service to husband and family is joy.
Anne Shirley introduced me to the idea of “kindred spirits” even before I read and appreciated her whole book. She reminds me to keep my eyes open for this rare and special kind of friend, and to hold on tight to them when I find them.
Fortunately my idea of a “real man” was formed long before I got my hands on the Twilight books: it’s one who will drive his cutter to pick you up from a miserable job and take you home for the weekend even when it’s -30 outside (Almanzo Wilder), who likes you “just as you are” (Mark Darcy), who knows which battles are worth fighting (Atticus Finch), who can teach himself German in order to read Freud (Danny Saunders), who can change his mind about himself and others (Fitzwilliam Darcy), who makes anywhere “home” just by being there (Nat Eaton).
Of course, not all stories come from novels…
I once watched a documentary on James Dean that concluded that his fatal car accident occurred because he was driving a silver car that was practically invisible at dusk. For this reason I’m compulsive about driving my own silver-gray car with the lights on.
One time I heard a story about a girl who was pulled over a few minutes after leaving a gas station, and the police discovered that a man had committed a murder and then climbed up under this girl’s car while she paid for her gas and was using her vehicle to flee the scene. I’m pretty sure this story is the root of all of my car-jacking/axle-cutting fears.
P.S. I am fully aware that not all of these stories are actually about fictional people, as the title of this post suggests. But they do (mostly) come from novels, so work wtih me.