Considering Books Together

Last weekend I attended a meeting of the Books That Bind Bookclub, a group of spectacular, thoughtful women who have been meeting monthly for TEN years to discuss books. They are the sort of women who are clearly successful—it’s apparent because none of them needed to talk about their accomplishments or posture. They were steady in themselves and able to listen generously and support of one another in the rare way of the settled. Paige, who was hosting for November, had heard me in a radio interview and sent me a note through my website a few months ago. Their books were so well-worn. Flagged and dog-eared, and highlighted, which made my heart burst. I write because I have to, and I am endlessly grateful that anyone reads what I write. One theme we came back to a lot in our discussion–which spanned motherhood, discrimination, sex, and relationships–was a feeling of recognition. The lines that I’d written that felt like I’d been carving into my flesh as I’d realized them were so often the lines and ideas that stood out to them as revelations as well.

When I got home, I asked my younger son what book he felt totally surprised by, like the author was listening to his thoughts. “The Ramona books,” he said. “Me too!” The Ramona books, by Beverly Cleary, were the first books I ever read that made me wonder if the author could literally hear my thoughts. Or if perhaps I wasn’t as strange as I thought I was. “Oh, right,” my son said. “You had a Beezus too.” (*Beezus was Ramona’s easily embarrassed straight-laced big sister). Almost thirty years apart, and we both had this incredible experience of feeling seen.

The question I’d like to ask you is when was your first (or alternatively, most recent) experience of feeling seen that way by art or literature? Write about it: “I never imagined anyone else…”

I went poking around for an excerpt for you and came across this perfect scene. The whole chapter is at the link, it’s really worth clicking through to.

Excerpt from Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Rainy Sunday

Rainy Sunday afternoons in November were always dismal, but Ramona felt this Sunday was the most dismal of all.  She pressed her nose against the living-room window, watching the ceaseless rain pelting down as bare black branches clawed at the electric wires in front of the house.  Even lunch, leftovers Mrs. Quimby had wanted to clear out of the refrigerator, had been dreary, with her parents, who seemed tired or discouraged or both, having little to say and Beezus mysteriously moody.  Ramona longed for sunshine, sidewalks dry enough for roller-skating, a smiling happy family.

“Ramona, you haven’t cleaned up your room this weekend,” said Mrs. Quimby, who was sitting on the couch, sorting through a stack of bills.  “And don’t press your nose against the window.  It leaves a smudge.”

Ramona felt as if everything she did was wrong.  The whole family seemed cross today, even Picky-picky who meowed at the front door.  With a sigh, Mrs. Quimby got up to let him out.  Beezus, carrying a towel and shampoo, stalked through the living room into the kitchen, where she began to wash her hair at the sink.  Mr. Quimby, studying at the dining-room table as usual, made his pencil scratch angrily across a pad of paper.  The television set sat blank and mute, and in the fireplace a log sullenly refused to burn.

Mrs. Quimby sat down and then got up again as Picky-Picky, indignant at the wet world outdoors, yowled to come in.  “Ramona, clean up your room,” she ordered, ad she let the cat and a gust of cold air into the house.

“Beezus hasn’t cleaned up her room.”  Ramona could not resist pointing this omission out to her mother.

“I’m not talking about Beezus,” said Mrs. Quimby.  “I’m talking about you.”

Still Ramona did not move from the window.  Cleaning up her room seemed such a boring thing to do,  no fun at all on a rainy afternoon.  She thought vaguely of all the exciting things she would like to do  — learn to twirl a lariat, play a musical saw, flip around and over bars in a gymnastic competition while crowds cheered.

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