A lot of times, when I'm reading a new book, I anticipate what I guess I'd call the beautiful page. It's the page that sort of defines the book. It's the page that sings it all together.
Lately, I find myself turning down the corner of that page. Some of these books end up having lots of dog-eared pages. Some, not so much. But there's always one. And when I finish the book, I go back and read it again, because that's what I want to remember most.
My latest example is from Whales On Stilts, by M.T. Anderson. Now, this is a silly book. A wacky book. I admit, the first time I tried to read it, I didn't get very far. Sorry Mr. Anderson! It's nothing personal. I just knew it wasn't my type.
"I just knew."
What a stupid phrase. You NEVER know! This should be a new mantra, even. You never know!
Anyway, recently, my son insisted that we read the book together. Note: He tried to read this book on his own a while back and also failed. But for whatever reason, he did not want to give up on it. Maybe because the book is signed to him. Who knows (you never do!). But it was calling. And so we picked it up, and I started reading out loud.
We laughed. We rolled our eyes. We giggled. We said, "Huh?" and "WHAT?!" And then laughed again.
And then we found the beautiful page.
Here it is:
When Lily was done with her story, she said, "What am I going to do?"
"Why don't you fight them with your magic sword?"
"I don't have a magic sword."
"In the world of make-pretend, you can have anything you want, darling."
Lily felt tears gather in her throat. "Grandma, this isn't pretend."
Her grandmother didn't argue. "I wish games could go on forever," she said soothingly. "I remember, Lily..." she laughed.
Lily loved the sound of her grandmother's chuckle. She held the phone closer to her ear.
Her grandmother said, "The games we played when I was little lasted for days. We would be running around in the fields down by Tinker's Point like crazy people. We would hide in the grass. We always pretended we were food. Myrtle D. was ketchup. I was a side of bacon. We jumped off the rocks, being food, and I'm afraid we bumped up our knees sometimes."
"I remember the fireflies always being out," said her grandmother, "but probably that was only once or twice." Sadly, she added, "You know, how when you're remembering, you put beautiful things everywhere? You spread them out, and they fill the whole memory. Even if there weren't fireflies every night we played there, those were firefly times, Lily."
Isn't that beautiful?
The phrase says it all, doesn't it? And for this book, it's about revisiting those wonderful days swallowed whole by imagination when you could believe in the impossible, like whales taking over the world. Whales on stilts, even. With laser eyes. Nothing was too over the top in your imagination. I think this book is a celebration of that. Well, it's doing lots of other stuff, too. But for me, that's what's at it's heart. And this is confirmed later, by the longest (and one of the most poignant) footnotes, I've ever seen. But I won't spoil it for you.
Whales on Stilts! Surprisingly poignant.
You never know.
Keep looking for the beautiful page.