Planets to Pencils
When I was eighteen I found a copy of The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks on the bedside table of my roommate in the psychiatric ward. I was immediately struck by how easy it would be to read, and perhaps, finish, this novel. My roommate was possibly, and this is not the textbook term, on Mars, and would not notice that this book had gone missing. At the time, I hadn’t read a book in three years, of any kind. My depression made it impossible to penetrate the depths of anything beyond a Facebook post. But The Last Song? Come on. I would have to be on Jupiter to not finish this one.
I didn’t finish the book.
Some time later in college I started reading again. My mental illness, however, wasn’t gone. On a particularly sad winter day in which I was withdrawing heavily from an antipsychotic medication, I decided to miss class. Then I realized it would be my fourth one, and I would be penalized. I raced into the classroom, an hour late.
The class I was destined, perhaps at this point in the semester, to fail, was Contemporary Literature. We were reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. The class contained six people and the professor. I hadn’t done the reading for that week. I listened, spellbound, as a man in my class discussed this fine work of literature. I couldn’t fathom having these opinions. The man speaking was sophisticated and well-rounded. As my withdrawing brain struggled to read over the pages I’d miss, I decided to really read this book.
I finished the book.
White Teeth for me was about the wit, especially the dialogue. I loved the banter of the characters. I loved how this novel wove the characters together in an intricate way. I went to my local coffee shop and brought a pencil. I underlined every piece of witty dialogue, so that the book was filled with mostly underlines when I was done. Such is good literature: every word has its place, its unity in solidifying the piece as a whole.
Reading changed the dialogue in my head. Inside my brain now is a pencil that jots down notes for later use in my writing. I am constantly mentally underlining what people say to me. There are gaps in time that I can’t remember, when I couldn’t put pencil to paper, either to underline or write my own work. But that changed with White Teeth.
I am now someone who sits writing at my computer every morning and evening. And I am someone who reads a fair amount of literature.
I am neither the young woman in the psychiatric hospital on Mars or Jupiter. And perhaps I will never be as sophisticated as the man who could dissect White Teeth with ease. But I am a reader. It makes me better, and my own brand of sophisticated.