Saturday, February 04, 2006

An Incessant Buzzing

I can't decide if this thinking belongs on this site or on my work site. I'm thinking I'll put the more personal thinking here, and the English teacher thinking there and call it even.

I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. I’m almost at a loss for words.

I have a pretty good imagination and can follow along with the best of them. I can create scenes in my head, I can hear characters’ voices, I can sometimes even see into a character’s inner life, the one the author doesn’t quite reveal. I occasionally play a game with myself where I’ll cast a movie of the book I’m reading and I get to decide who plays the leads and who would be the perfect choice for that side character who is a lot more complex and important than we might give them credit for being. I have learned how to read in a very active and engaged way because I’ve had so much good practice in doing just that.

My point is that, because of all my practice, I’m slightly jaded when it comes to reading. I don’t often get “lost” in books; I’m only rarely struck by the depth or enormity or power of a piece of writing. This book is one of perhaps three I can call to immediate memory that sucked me in and refused to let me go.

I find language completely engrossing when it’s crafted and manipulated in such a way that I actually FEEL, in a deep, visceral way, what a character is feeling, and the writing in this book almost made me gasp at its power. Right around page 238, I was surprised to find tears in my eyes. Actual, real tears. Never before has a book had that kind of effect on me (though Stephen King’s The Shining gave me the creeps for about a week after I finished it).

Monk Kidd’s novel spoke to places within me that I usually keep bundled up, that I don’t allow myself or anyone else regular access to. I could feel Lily’s struggle, because I endured a similar one myself and continue to deal with the consequences of it even now, and the act of reading this book let a few things slip from under the doors I keep locked. I’m currently deep in the act of processing and synthesizing and thinking, both about Lily’s story and my own. It is very gratifying, difficult work.

I found myself in the strange, oxymoronic position of wanting desperately to find out what happens next and dreading the turn of every page because it meant that I was that much closer to the end of a story I didn’t want to end. I know for certain that the after-effects of reading this astounding work will be with me at least for the near future.

It was an unexpected stop on my lifelong path to be whole.


Blogger Kizz said...

You've never cried at a book before?!?! How is this possible? I'm floored. You've cried at movies, right?

12:43 AM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

Oh, GOD! I cry at movies all the time! As a matter of fact, there's a spot in Apollo 13, where Marilyn and the kids go to see Jim's mother in the nursing home to tell her that there's been an "accident," and the youngest daughter starts to cry. Now, Grandma isn't always all there, but she looks at her granddaughter and says "are you scared?" to which the little girl nods. Then she says, with absolute conviction and total clarity; "well, don't you worry. If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it." I'm choking up just thinking about it. I've seen it a zillion times, I KNOW it's coming, but I always cry at that spot anyway.

I'm not sure why I've never cried before while reading. I've been deeply, DEEPLY touched before and am still haunted by the experience of reading some books - mostly those about cruelty and oppression - but none of them has ever moved me to physical tears.

It could be because I felt a very personal, tangible connection to the main character in this book, and it picked at the edges of sores that I know will never heal for me. For as much as I may want to empathize with characters in books about aparthied or the holocaust, as much as their suffering and my outrage might take up residence in my thoughts, I can't truly FEEL what the books describe, and it would be arrogant of me to think that I could. I've lived parts of The Secret Life of Bees, though; the book did not lend me emotions that I didn't already have. I think that's the difference.

I'm not sure that's entirely the answer, though, because I'm moved to tears so often at movies. Perhaps it's a weakness in my imagination that I'm more easily drawn into the visual and auitory experience of movies than I am in books? I didn't cry while reading A Dry White Season, but I barely made it through the first fifteen minutes of the movie without needing a tissue.

I don't know what that means.

Thoughts? Comments?

7:41 AM  
Blogger Kizz said...

Ever read Love Story? Lion of Ireland? Beloved? Almost anything by Alice Walker? God, books make me cry all the time. I don't know why I'm so flabbergasted that you don't cry at books but I am. Glad you finally found one that works for you. I have read the book and I liked it but I wasn't so supremely moved by it and I continue to feel like a freak beacuse I wasn't. So many people have really loved it. I'm looking forward to reading her subsequent book.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

Oh, there are a ton of books that have moved me deeply, I've just not had the physical reaction of tears with them. Let's see...the ones I really remember having a profound impact on me were A Dry White Season, Roots, Night, Beloved. There's a series of poetry called Elegies for Rog by Paul Monet that send me over the edge in a very Brokeback Mountain sort of way. I feel a very personal connection to Sarah Orne Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs stories, but really, Bees was the first book that brought actual tears to my eyes.

Please don't feel like a freak because the book didn't hit you in a particular way. Everyone brings their own stuff to the experience of literature (and movies - your take on Brokeback was so completely different from mine because we both came to it with very different experiences and histories) and it's those that inform our interaction with the text. I can't stand it when people tell me I "should" appreciate something in a particular way. Just because someone else says it's the most amazing thing ever written doesn't mean it's the most amazing thing ever written for EVERYONE.

Gee - maybe this conversation SHOULD be on the work site, huh?

8:48 PM  

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