Instead, I decided to graduate early, so I had to cram my last degree requirements into the 18 hours I was allotted. I elected to write a senior thesis (creative, but still) and wrote through at least three drafts of a novella. I helped form a writing society on campus and completed a publishing internship, and between all that I tried to keep up with my own, personal writing.
Like I said: Stress.
It wasn’t anything I didn’t sign up for, and it helped my resume look a little less skimpy when I decided to apply for jobs after graduation, but it was a lot. One day, I was working in the campus coffee shop, on my third mocha and second chocolate muffin, writing furiously to finish a chapter of my thesis novella, and wondering if I should do my literature homework next or plan out a meeting for the writer’s society when I looked up, and saw a girl.
She was young, maybe a freshman, so girl seemed a fair term. She was dressed nicely, her hair and makeup neat, and carrying a small cup of whatever hot drink she’d decided to order. She hadn’t rolled out of bed that morning, throwing her hair into a hasty bun before putting on clothes from the top of her laundry hamper, having realized she had no more clean T-shirts. Her drink, more than likely her first of the day, probably didn’t have two shots of espresso because she was existing on three hours of sleep that morning. She looked the picture of stress-free living, which was completed when she reached into her bag and pulled out a book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and started to read from the first page. She became lost so easily in the pages, sipping her drink occasionally, like all that remained in the world was her and the story.
Eventually, I realized I was staring crazily at a complete stranger and I averted my eyes. But everything about that scene stuck with me. As a writer, all kinds of people and scenes stick with me as possible characters and settings, but this was different. For the first time, seeing someone so calm sitting just a few tables away from the madness of my own set up didn’t strike the writer in me. Instead, it struck the reader in me, someone I’d forgotten.
Being an English major (even just being a writer) meant it had been a very long time since I’d read anything for simple, pure enjoyment. With my reading lists stacked as high as they were, for classes, for my thesis, for research for whatever I was writing at the time, I just couldn’t justify sliding in anything that I could read for just…fun. In fact, the last time I could remember reading anything without hoping for some kind of gain from it was when I was reading children’s books, like Harry Potter.
When I want to sound smart, I tell people my favorite book is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. When I’m being honest, I say my favorite book is Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen. If you’ve never read Flipped (a darn shame, if you ask me), then I’ll give you a quick overview: an eighth grade girl, Juli, has loved the boy next door since he moved to town when they were seven. The boy, Bryce, is not so much a fan of her affection. Though Juli can’t put her finger on what she sees in Bryce, beyond his darling blue eyes and thick dark hair, she does not relax in her endeavours to be noticed by him, until one day Bryce shows his true colors. As Juli’s feelings begin to wane, however, Bryce starts to see Juli in a new light, one more awe-inspiring than he’d originally cast on her. Thus, their situations…flip.
It’s a cute book. It’s short, and sweet, and packs a lot into its pages. I’ve read it so often I can quote lines in casual conversation, and at the end I always wish for a sequel, even though the author has explained so many times why there isn’t going to be one. Sometimes I think it might have been the book that made me decide to be a writer, but back when I read it for the first time it was just a story, filling the heart of a preteen girl.
Though Flipped left a lasting impression on me, I didn’t read it for anything more than what the story offered. The same is true for my other childhood reads: The Babysitters Club, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nancy Drew, and, yes, Harry Potter. That’s not to say these books didn’t offer anything; on the contrary, they’ve given more than most of the “adult” books I’ve read to this date. But I didn’t want anything from them other than a good tale that made me feel less alone in the world. Back then, reading was new, and joyful, and not fuel my own creations.
When the girl left the coffee shop that day, long before I’d finished the million things on my to-do list, I wanted what she had, or at least what I perceived her to have (I’m not going to try and pretend to know what kind of life she lived; for all I knew, her life was busier than mine). I wanted to sink into a book, and not think about what it could teach me for a class or for my writing. I wanted to just be in the story, no ulterior motives.
I’m not there yet; even after graduating some few months after that day, I still choose books based on what I’m writing. I feel compelled to, as I try and build my writing career day by day. One day, though, I will search my shelves for that old favorite. I’ll pull it from its spot, running fingers over the worn cover and dog-eared pages. I’ll sit down with a cup of coffee (De-caf!), not a care in the world, and flip to page one.
About Holley Long