Monday, August 30, 2010

Reading as an Eater

Reading Mary Ann's last post reminded me of a wonderful handbook for young writers that I recently bought for a talented neighbor.  In it, Anne Mazer bravely confesses that she's never much cared for Charlotte's Web.  While I adored Charlotte's Web and probably read it a dozen times, I must admit that I have no memory whatsoever of the passage Mary Ann cited with such love and affection.  I am a foodie, and instead it was the buttermilk in the creases of Wilbur's ears and the scraps of Templeton's newspapers that made a lifelong impression on me.

Reading, as I always tell my students, is a highly subjective experience.

A Wrinkle in Time conjures for me images of cocoa; lettuce and tomato sandwiches; turkey and dressing.  Of course I also remember pulsating IT, the rhythm of the bouncing balls and jump ropes, the quirky language of the three Mrs. Ws. 

In short, I am not a visual thinker.  At all.  I don't care whether the heroine of my book has honey-colored hair or which brand of shoes she is wearing.  What grounds me in an alternate reality is the scent of freshly cut grass or the taste of a dark chocolate Reese's cup.  Yet how to describe these sensations?  Because many of us are visual thinkers, English, I would venture to say, has evolved to possess a dearth of descriptive words for scents, sounds, and, to a slightly lesser extent, tastes.

From Ramona Quimby, Age 8, by Beverly Cleary:

"Ramona bit into her hamburger.  Bliss.  Warm, soft, juicy, tart with relish.  Juice dribbled down her chin.  She noticed her mother start to say something and chnage her mind.  Ramona caught the dribble with her paper napkin before it reached her collar.  The French fries -- crip on the outside, mealy on the inside -- tasted better than anything Ramona had ever eaten."   

I never liked hamburgers as a kid until I read this passage.  I don't believe that Beverly Cleary is best known for her descriptive language, but I still think of this scene every time I eat a french fry.

Of course the brilliance of Beverly Cleary is typically recognized to be in her humor, and these are the other passages that have always stayed with me.  From the first page of Ramona the Pest:

"'I'm not acting like a pest.  I'm singing and skipping,' said Ramona, who had only recently learned to skip with both feet."

I have a five-year-old daughter, and Ramona IS my daughter.  Oh, when Ramona thought she had to sit still for "the present," when she described her eye color as "brown and white," when she understood the lyrics of the national anthem to involve a "dawnzer" that emitted a "lee light" -- what child could not empathize with these situations and laugh?  I am typing this paragraph and thinking, "I can't WAIT to read these books to my kids!"

So food and funny is what does it for me.  What an interesting exercise in self-analysis this has been!  As writers and readers, it is always a good idea to ask ourselves -- what are our touchstones?  And why?
--Jeanne Marie

P.S. Don't forget to enter our fabulous Patricia Reilly Giff two-book-set book giveaway!


1 comment:

Carmela Martino said...

Love the idea of "reading as an eater," JM. Your post made my mouth water. :-)