Every lifetime reader probably knows the book that did it for them. That all-time best ever book that made them fall in love with reading or writing.
The Book That Did it! The All-Time Best Book Ever
Shifting From Lifetime Reader to Writer
As a lifetime reader, I have read many books, some bad, some good, some awful and some forgettable. The Chosen by Chaim Potok for me was superb and unforgettable.
Years ago, as a broody teen I read many books in my bed, under the window, during the summer when I had endless hours to myself. On one of those sweaty hot days, I lost myself in this novel. This book, written before I entered the world, talks about a time after a war that for me had passed into the history books. It was a solid story, about the struggle to be seen. I lived that problem. I was ten, lost in a sea of older siblings. These boys, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders became friends despite their bitter dislike of one another because of a baseball game.
During my girlhood, there were two things I really loved. Baseball and reading. No wonder this book was a winner to me. At the beginning, the intense baseball scene roped me in, but the developing relationship between two boys from different worlds held me, especially the unseen, unspoken to, brilliant Danny Saunders.
As a voracious reader, I was thrilled to find a book to lose myself into for a time. I embraced the characters, sensed their feelings, heard their thoughts, and empathized with their plight. Then, in the gooey middle of that turbulent story, came one particular paragraph, changing the game by making the words show up. The words—not the story, suddenly captivated me. I tapped my finger on the page, mouthing as I counted each word, impatient to know how many Potok used to walk me down the sidewalk, up the stairs, right into the world of Hasidic Jews.
The Juicy Details…
Four hundred twenty-three words. A paragraph with twelve sentences, thirty-two commas, and fourteen dashes. It has an average sentence of thirty-five words, alongside words with an average of five characters. Oh, the simplicity amid the complexity. I first wrote out this paragraph on paper, resisting the urge to add periods, leave out words or change the syntax. I transcribed it exactly. Next, I read it aloud. On that day, I learned you could truly break the writing rules, if you also followed them, as you broke them. It’s twisted, but it’s not. The paragraph is loaded; yet without fragmented, or run-on sentences. It’s just right. I wanted to understand how to use words like him, to manipulate them, to own—or make puppets of them. I wanted to not only be a lifetime reader but a writer too. Ultimately, I wanted to bring stories to life like Potok.
The Paragraph From The Book That Did It
We were approaching a group of about thirty black-caftaned men who were standing in front of the three-story brownstone at the end of the street. They formed a solid wall, and I did not want to push through them so I slowed my steps, but Danny took my arm with one hand and tapped his other hand upon the shoulder of a man on the outer rim of the crowd. The man turned, pivoting the upper portion of his body – a middle-aged man, his dark beard streaked with gray, his thick brows edging into a frown of annoyance – and I saw his eyes go wide. He bowed slightly and pushed back, and a whisper went through the crowd like a wind, and it parted, and Danny and I walked through, Danny holding me by the arm and nodding his head at the greetings and Yiddish that came in quiet murmurs from the people he passed. It was as if a black-waved, frozen sea had been sliced by a scythe, forming black, solid walls along a jelled path. I saw black- and gray-bearded heads bow toward Danny and dark brows arch sharply over eyes that stared questions at me and at the way Danny was holding me by the arm. We were almost halfway through the crowd now, walking slowly together, Danny’s fingers on the part of my arm just over the elbow. I felt myself naked and fragile, an intruder, and my eyes, searching for anything but the bearded faces to look at, settled, finally, upon the sidewalk at my feet. Then, because I wanted something other than the murmured greetings in Yiddish to listen to, I began to hear, distinctly, the tapping sounds of Danny’s metal-capped shoes against the cement pavement. It seemed a sharp, unnaturally loud sound, and my ears fixed on it, and I could hear it clearly as we went along. I listened to it intently- the soft scrape of the shoe and the sharp tap-tap of the metal caps- as we went up the stone steps of the stairway that led into the brownstone in front of which the crowd stood. The caps tapped against the stone of the steps, then against the stone of the top landing in front of the double door -and I remembered the old man I often saw walking along Lee Avenue, moving carefully through the busy street and tapping, tapping, his metal-capped cane, which served him for eyes he had lost in a First World War trench doing a German Gas attack.