“How do you kill yourself by putting your head in an oven?” Daniella asked once when we were just sitting around in the apartment. “Wouldn’t that hurt too much?” Daniella had started reading poetry a couple weeks earlier, including some Sylvia Plath. “Seriously, how could she keep her head still while her face was burning up? Jesus Christ, it would have been easier just to jump off a bridge.”
“Gas,” I said. “Oven.” I breathed in deeply.
Daniella processed the information and then snapped, “You didn’t have to say it like that!”
With poetry, Daniella had finally found her thing. She admitted that she had never been a good reader or a good student. She barely finished high school, and she never went to college. To her, it had all seemed pointless. But now that she had incentive to read, she went full force. Daniella wanted to maintain that soft, educated image she had with my friends and the churchgoers at St. Luke’s. Jane Austen novels were a bit much for her, so instead she devoured poetry by female authors. By “devour,” I mean that she actually read a couple poems from each book. She had purchased (with her own money, not mine) an Emily Dickinson volume, and collections by Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and despite my opposition, she wore a dark beret while carrying the poetry with her. The beret might have been pretentious on most women, but it worked for her. Maybe I was just biased.
Daniella was also determined to fit in at church. She swiped a copy of The Book of Common Prayer from St. Luke’s and memorized the order of the service and a few prayers so that she could look like she knew what she was doing. She checked the psalm list at the beginning of each service so that she could familiarize herself with the words. She couldn’t read music, but after the first verse, she could sing the rest of the song. She had to be a member of the church to be in the choir, and she had to get confirmed, and she was strongly thinking about that. So as the weeks went by, Daniella became familiar with church and poetry, poetry and church.
Daniella even began writing poetry of her own:
“I grind my ass on a sweaty guy’s crotch/
I dream of getting drunk on the beach and watching the sunset rise/
The sweaty guy hands me a twenty.”
I told Daniella that it was a good start, but it wasn’t fair for her to recite poetry about Nero’s while at the same time she kept telling me not to dwell on her job. I also wanted to ask her about the phrase “watching the sunset rise.” I wasn’t sure if the wording was a mistake or something deep. With Daniella, it was often tough to tell.
One night as I was drifting off into sleep, Daniella whispered:
“My naïve boyfriend sees an angel/ Oh, how I have blinded him.”
What? After thinking about it for a few minutes, I sat up. Daniella was already on her side snoring, but she might have been faking, and I knew what would happen with my angel if she were truly asleep and I woke her up. I wasn’t going to take that chance.
I was making breakfast the next morning when Daniella startled me from behind. She was wearing my Judge Dredd t-shirt (this was before the horrible Sylvester Stallone movie when Judge Dredd was a respectable comic book that was funny and relevant), but she had cut off the sleeves and the bottom of the shirt. This was blatant showing off, and part of me was annoyed that she had cut up my shirt without permission. Usually when girlfriends cut up boyfriends’ clothes (it had never happened to me), it meant that the relationship had come to a melodramatic end. But if the girlfriend was still wearing the cut-up clothes and looked good in the cut-up clothes and knew that she looked good in the cut-up clothes, something else was going on. The jeans shorts she wore were hers. She never wore my shorts. She’d worn my boxers before (after they’d been washed), but never my shorts.
Daniella wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed hard. Even though we weren’t in love with each other, Daniella could be affectionate. With all of her over-cursing and trouble-making, sometimes I forgot how affectionate she could be. I’d never had such an affectionate girlfriend before. My previous literary girlfriends may have actually read the books they carried around, but sometimes they could be reluctant to show affection.
“What’s going on?” I said, trying to lean into her and maintain control of my scrambled eggs at the same time.
“I’m just feeling you this morning,” she said.
Daniella was about to break up with me so she could find a rich guy to marry at church, and she was suddenly “feeling” me. Her hair was messed up, she hadn’t brushed her teeth, and she had cut up my Judge Dredd t-shirt without my permission, but I didn’t care. Daniella was feeling me.
“You still luuuuuvvvvv me, don’t you?” she said.
I smiled and scrambled the eggs.
“What if I got fat?” she said and released me. “What if I grew a mustache and my arms and legs got hairy, and I turned into a giant, furry blob? Would you still luuuuuuuuuvvvvvv me?”
Her hands were on her hips, and she stuck her chest out so that the shirt tipped up and I could see her navel. She was serious.
“I don’t think you’d let that happen,” I said.
“What if I got pregnant?” she said. Both of us were silent for a moment. Then she said, “You’d marry me, wouldn’t you?”
I knew not to ask the question that I wanted to ask, I knew not to, but a woman can’t drop the rhetorical pregnancy bombshell like that and not expect a question about it, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t pregnant and that she was going somewhere with this interrogation, so I resisted the urge to ask.
“I’d probably offer,” I said.
“But you wouldn’t want to,” she said.
I almost laughed. “I can’t see us married.”
“But you’d do it. Even if you didn’t want to.”
I didn’t like the sound of this. The pit in my stomach started flaring up. Something was going on.
“I’m not pregnant,” she said. “I was thinking about making you think I was. But I won’t do that to you.”
“Thank you,” I said. I was still nervous.
“I don’t want to get married to you,” Daniella said. “And… I don’t want to get married to a rich guy just to divorce him. And… I decided that I don’t want to break up with you yet.”
I was blindsided. This was our whole plan, to break up so that she’d marry/divorce a rich guy. I knew that Daniella tended to improvise while I liked to stick to a plan, but this was more than improvising. This sounded like she was abandoning our plan. If she didn’t want to marry a rich guy, and she didn’t want to break up with me, then I had no idea what was going. I didn’t mind not breaking up with her, but I wanted to know what was going on.
“What?” she said. My face must have had a weird expression.
“I’m out of money,” I said. “And if you’re not using me to get into an Episcopal church, then what good am I?”
“I’m still using you,” Daniella said in such a sweet way that I couldn’t get offended. “I have a new plan.”
A new plan? This didn’t help my stomach pain at all. Daniella had a new plan. I had no clue about what she had just come up with, but I was pretty sure her new plan was going to be a really bad idea.
To be continued! If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s gotten kind of long), start here. Or click on “The Literary Girlfriend” category to select a chapter.
Last night I threw a book across the room. Actually, I threw two books across the room. I didn’t dislike the books. I just wanted to see what it was like to throw a book across the room. I had never done it before. There are lot of things I’ve never done before (and I probably won’t get to do a lot of stuff that I’d like to do), but I figured I could at least throw a book across the room.
The only reason I thought of throwing a book across the room is because a couple commenters on Dysfunctional Literacy have said they’ve done it when they didn’t like the books they were reading. It seems strange to throw a book across the room just because you don’t like it. If I don’t like a book, I just give it to somebody I don’t care for. But maybe that’s wrong, so I decided to try throwing a book across the room.
The first book I threw across the room was a thin paperback copy of World War Z by Max Brooks. I read it a few months ago. It was okay. That’s my book review, it was okay. My book reviews have gotten lazy recently, but at least I finished reading the book, which I don’t do often anymore. There’s no resale value in a paperback copy of World War Z, so it was a good copy to throw. The problem was that I have a ceiling fan in the room so I couldn’t put my full arm strength into my throw, and I throw like a girl, and the pages spread out when I threw the book, so the book didn’t go quite as far as I had hoped. I was aiming for an ottoman on the other side of the room, but it didn’t quite get there. It fell to the floor and scared my dog, who really wasn’t close enough to be scared. Maybe I should get a new dog, but I’m not going to throw my dog across the room.
The second book I threw was a hardback copy of The Columbia History of the World. I bought it decades ago when I was trying to pass myself off as an intellectual. Every once in a while, I would read a section, especially when a long historical fiction novel became popular. For example, every time Colleen McCullough wrote a new Rome book, I’d read about Rome in The Columbia History of the World and save a lot of time.
I haven’t read The Columbia History of the World in years, and it’s still in pretty good shape, so I knew it could take a good throw. I really had to be careful with the ceiling fan this time. The Columbia History of the World could take out the ceiling fan, even with one of my girlie throws. This heavier book led to a more accurate throw, and I actually hit the ottoman, but The Columbia History of the World bounced/rolled off and hit the floor. This time the dog barked, and my wife asked (yelled) from upstairs what was going on. I told her I was throwing books across the room, and she told me (nicely) to stop.
I’d kind of like to throw an unabridged copy of The Oxford Dictionary or even an unabridged Merriam-Webster, but I’d need two hands to throw it, and I’d probably hurt myself. Still, it would be entertaining. Since I don’t have my own copy, I’d have to use the library’s, and I’d probably get kicked out of the library for throwing an unabridged dictionary. The library would rather have a homeless guy talking to himself than a guy who throws unabridged dictionaries. The library would rather have guys who watch porn on library computers than a guy who throws an unabridged dictionary. It’s a safety issue. Nobody has ever been hurt by guys who watch porn on public library computers. The noise of an unabridged dictionary hitting the floor is probably pretty loud too. Librarians don’t like loud noises.
Now that I read (or read samples of) a lot of books on my phone, it’s really not a good idea to throw a book across the room. The paperback copy of World War Z that I threw across the room was less than 10 bucks. My phone cost a bit more than that. I’ve been tempted to throw my phone across the room a couple times, but never because of the book that I’m reading on it.
Now I don’t throw books across the room anymore. But at least I’ve done it. The next time I feel disappointed in a book, I will NOT throw it across the room. Some people talk about throwing something at the television when they get mad at it. Maybe I’ll try that next. But if I throw anything at my television set, it won’t be a book.
First of all, you don’t need a reason to read a book more than once. When I was a kid, reading a book was the only form of entertainment you could do twice. You could go to see a movie once in the theater, and the next weekend it would be gone forever, replaced by another movie. If you missed a television show, you waited six months for a rerun, and then that show was most likely gone forever. There was no cable, no internet, no tablets. But books? If you liked a book, you could read it as many times as you wanted. Sometimes we read a book more than once simply because we could.
But in these modern times, there are other reasons to read a book more than once. Even with so many other forms of entertainment, even when there are so many books out there that it’s impossible to read them all, sometimes it’s still better to reread a book that you’ve already read before.
SIX REASONS TO READ A BOOK MORE THAN ONCE
1. Every other book you try reading sucks
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Sometimes you need a sure thing when you’re reading a book. Whether you’re waiting for good/bad news in a hospital or sitting at an airport, you want something that you know will get your mind off of whatever you don’t want your mind on. That is NOT the time to experiment with an unfamiliar book or author. There are times you need a sure thing, and The Godfather is my sure thing.
Yeah, the movies (the first two) are okay, but the book has so many sub-plots that you can randomly pick a page and find something interesting. It’s not a perfect book (a couple sub-plots are out of place and stupid), but it’s very readable. And I turn to it when I need to know that I’ll enjoy what I’m reading.
2. Just because you like it
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
I read The Three Musketeers a couple times when I was in middle school. It might have been the first novel that I ever read twice, but I’m not sure. I liked it. That was the only reason I reread it. Just because… I liked it. It might be the best reason. But it’s not an interesting reason. The Three Musketeers is the only classic literature on my list. I have fond memories of the 1970s movies with Michael York as D’Artagnan and Raquel Welch as Constance, and those movies spurred me on to read the book. Even without the movies (and the Classics Illustrated comic), I would have loved this book.
3. To relive the experience
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
I accidentally found this novel during a low point in my teen years (I won’t go into what was going on). This book was lying around the house (I don’t know who bought it), and I liked the title because people often commented that I was thin, and it wasn’t meant as a compliment. I realized as I read that the thin man was the murder victim, but I liked the mystery novel anyway. The Thin Man got me through a really bad weekend. I don’t want to relive that bad weekend by reading The Thin Man, but I like remembering the joy of an unexpected great book. That doesn’t happen very often.
4. To win a contest
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
When I was in ninth grade, I got into a reading contest with another kid to see who could read The Lord of the Rings the most times. I had read it three times, and he had read it four times, and every time I read it again, he’d read it again just to stay ahead of me. The fourth time I read it, I skipped The Fellowship of the Ring (I claimed to have read it over a weekend). And the fifth time, I just lied and carried The Two Towers with me while I read something else. It may have been the first time I had ever lied about reading a book that I hadn’t really read. But it wouldn’t be the last time.
I always vowed that if I ever got into another reading contest, it would involve a short book and not a trilogy.
To be honest, I might never read this again. I read it several times in junior high/high school. Back in the 1970s, the rip-offs hadn’t been written yet, so there was nothing else quite like it (as far as we knew). TLOTR was a trilogy to be savored. It was a trilogy before trilogies were common. It was a trilogy that made sense as a trilogy. It even had a prequel. Any youngster reading The Lord of the Rings might not see anything unique in it because it’s been copied so many times in so many exciting ways (from a youngster’s point of view).
Referring to people younger than me as “youngster” probably makes me sound older than I really am.
5. To avoid reading anything by James Patterson
James Patterson writes too many books, so any time you reread a book, it keeps you from buying a James Patterson book (or a book with written by somebody else with James Patterson’s name on it).
6. To find details you didn’t notice the first time
Some people read books a second time to catch details that they missed the first time. That’s a great reason to read a book more than once, but I’ve never done it. I usually don’t care if I missed details the first time I read a book. I might notice details the second time I read a book, but that’s never the reason I reread a book. I hope I’m not being disrespectful to people who reread books for this reason. It’s not a bad reason. It’s probably a better reason than trying to win a contest.
BONUS BOOK to read more than once
The Bible- by God
When God writes a book, it’s probably a good idea to read it. Maybe it’s a good idea to read it more than once. Any of the above reasons would be ideal for reading The Bible more than once. I would have included The Bible as the example for all six reasons, but it wouldn’t be fair to the other books. No human author can compete with God, not even James Patterson (I hope James Patterson isn’t thinking of writing his own version of The Bible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.). So I hope God understands why I didn’t include The Bible as an example for any book that’s worth reading more than once.
But enough about me! What books do you turn to when you need a sure thing? What books have you read more than once and why?
The way I see things, it takes a lot of nerve to introduce yourself to the priest on the first day you attend a church. Maybe you might accidentally run into the priest. Maybe somebody else will introduce you to the priest. But Daniella strutted right up to the priest standing at the center exit and introduced herself. And then she introduced me.
Daniella said she had enjoyed the sermon (she probably hadn’t been paying attention). She said St. Luke’s was a beautiful church (she knew the church had money). The priest introduced himself as Father Patrick, and he welcomed us to St. Luke’s (but he hardly looked at me when he spoke, which might have been because Daniella had done all the talking, or it might have been because every man liked checking out Daniella and a priest wasn’t going to be any different).
Daniella was a talker, and I’ve never been that social. With her plain dress and thick, black glasses, she looked like the type to go to church and participate in biblical discussions. She didn’t look like she’d dance topless, or steal furniture, or over-curse in public, or put ex-boyfriends in the hospital. But that was part of the plan. Since she was the one with the personality and the looks, she would be the one to attract attention. I would be the sour boyfriend. And when we broke up (hopefully not too soon), the church would provide several wealthy suitors for her.
Father Patrick invited us to the community center for fellowship, and Daniella agreed before I could say anything. I wasn’t going to disagree or start an argument. I simply was trying to get a word in. Daniella took my hand, and instead of bee-lining to my car as we’d originally planned, we followed a bunch of parishioners out a side door into another more modern rectangular brick building.
“We’re not following the plan,” I stage-whispered in sing-song voice.
“Sometimes you need to improvise,” she replied in the same tone.
“Then why bother even making a plan?”
“I know what I’m doing!” Somehow she maintained her fake smile through the exchange. I’m pretty sure I appeared grouchy.
The lobby of the community center was a high-ceilinged atrium, and on the sides we could see upper level offices and maybe a few classrooms. On our left was a church library with several lengthy shelves, too many for all of them to be religious (I hoped). There had to be something interesting in there. On the right was a mini-auditorium. On the other side of the lobby was the snack/coffee bar. Behind that were a couple wide hallways. I looked around for a bathroom, hoping I could slip away before we got coerced into some conversations.
I had a good reason for wanting to get away. I knew what was about to happen. I’d hated this part of church for years. When I was a kid and the church service was over, I’d always wanted to go straight home. I’d done my time (maybe that wasn’t the best attitude to have). But my parents were both talkers, and they’d linger after church for hours (it felt like hours), drinking coffee, and talking, about what I never knew. I had to wait around, tug at sleeves, play with other church kids, whom I never really cared for. When I got older, I just brought a bunch of books and would read them in the car or on the stairs, but then everybody thought I was anti-social. I didn’t like the notion of Daniella and I hanging around after church, but for our plan to work, Daniella was going to have to do it. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be this week. I’d hoped that the lingering wouldn’t begin until for a few more weeks. I didn’t want to break up yet. By starting this phase so early, I didn’t know if Daniella was planning on breaking up soon. I hadn’t expected this yet.
The first couple that approached us looked familiar. “We were sitting in front of you,” the wife said. “You have a beautiful voice.” I knew she wasn’t talking to me. “You should see about joining the choir.”
“I’m not Episcopalian yet,” Daniella said. “He’s the Episcopalian.” She leaned on me.
“We’d love to have you here. I hope you consider joining us.” Again, she looked at Daniella, not me.
And then several other middle-aged people started introducing themselves. Daniella kept repeating their first names, but it was all a blur to me. I knew I wasn’t going to be coming to church for long, so I wasn’t putting any effort into learning names. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was glad I didn’t have to try that hard either.
Some guy in our group asked me what I did for a living, and when I started explaining it, he began gazing around at other people, and his wife yawned. I tried to ask him what he did, but I guess he didn’t hear me because he was talking to his wife.
“I’m a paralegal,” Daniella was saying to five people around her. All of them were listening to her. I’d warned her about going with the paralegal story. There’d be a bunch of lawyers at the church, and they might start asking questions or get too curious. Daniella knew Darren B. Smelley, a defense attorney with cheesy TV ads, and she said he’d vouch for her if any lawyers started asking questions about her. If Darren B. Smelley was in on our plan, I… I… wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
“That guy?” a woman asked. Everyone knew who Smelley was. He was almost universally hated by anybody who watched television after 10:00 PM, except for those who’d been arrested.
“He’s not that bad,” Daniella said. “I respect our police a lot,” she continued with no sarcasm in her voice, “but sometimes they get carried away.”
A few people nodded. They might have disliked defense attorneys or Darren B. Smelley, but they weren’t going to argue with Daniella after church about it. To them, Daniella was probably just a sweet but naïve and misguided little girl.
Somebody brought another priest to our social circle, and we were introduced to St. Luke’s other priest, Father Murdock. He was in his early 30s and looked a little bit like me, except he had darker hair that flopped over his forehead. Daniella smiled at him too long, and I thought, no, no, no, not the priest, anybody but the priest. But then Father Murdock gestured to a tan blonde woman next to him.
“This is my fiancée Amy,” he said.
“Are you two planning on… getting married?” Father Murdock asked us.
Daniella grinned at me. “I do, but Jimmy wants to take things slow,” she said.
I got a few friendly but dirty looks. Some guy slapped me on the back and said, “You’d be crazy not to marry her.”
Another said, “Get her before she changes her mind.”
Daniella eyeballed me hard with her cheese-eating grin. “Yes, Jimmy, before I change my mind.”
I smiled sheepishly but kept my mouth shut. If only they knew…
“We have a couple’s group at our church, if you’re interested,” Father Murdock said, with a little hesitation.
“Couple’s group?” Daniella said and then shut her mouth. Whatever she’d been about to add, it had been vulgar (probably a crude joke about groups and couples), and she’d barely saved herself.
“I overheard someone talking about a gym,” I said to change the subject. I knew about the gymnasium from when I’d attended a service a couple years ago. “Does this church really have a gym?”
“Yes,” Father Murdock said proudly. “It’s on the other side of the community center. Would you like to see it?”
“Sure,” Daniella said.
“That’s more her thing than mine,” I said, gesturing to Daniella. I leaned in and whispered to Daniella, “You check it out while I go to the restroom.”
“That might be a good idea,” she stated.
Might be a good idea? That was a curious way to phrase it, I thought.
As I watched the crowd follow (or guide) Daniella to the lobby, I realized that she was the type of person I usually despise, charming but shallow. If Daniella had been a guy, I’d probably dislike her. But she was really pretty and I couldn’t help myself. I liked being around her. I was going to miss her. That probably made me as shallow as the charming guys I despised, but at least I wasn’t shallow all the time. It was okay to be selectively, situationally shallow, I thought, as I entered the men’s room near the mini-auditorium.
After I’d used the facilities, I washed my hands, looked in the mirror, and stopped. I squeezed my eyes shut and muttered a self-censored curse. I couldn’t believe it. I opened my eyes just to make sure. Yes, there it was, a stringy booger dangling out of my nose. Ugh. This had happened to me a few times in high school, but it had been years since I’d had a dangler in public. I almost cursed, but even in the bathroom, I was still at church. I grabbed some toilet tissue and blew my nose hard.
No wonder Daniella had wanted to introduce us today instead of waiting. I’d been quiet and borderline anti-social with a booger hanging down. To the rest of the church, I was a loser. Daniella had set herself up perfectly, the charming, beautiful young lady who had a surly boyfriend with bad hygiene. When we broke up soon, everybody at the church would understand why. I couldn’t be angry at her for improvising. Daniella had made the right move.
I wasn’t ticked off at Daniella. Normally, she would have figured out a way to tell me (coughing/sneezing in code), but nobody else had told me either. That’s what made me angry. Somebody should have pulled me aside. I would do that for others, and I wasn’t even social. It was common decency. In college, I’d notified another student before class (very quietly), and the guy later acted like I was his long-lost friend whenever he saw me after that. It was like a modern version of “Androcles and the Lion.” If I’d been at a sports bar or football game and nobody had said anything about a dangling booger, I would have been disappointed, but I would have understood. But this was church! Somebody should have said something. Just for that, they’d get no tithe from me.
When I stepped out of the men’s room, Daniella was strolling back from the other side of the lobby with a woman on each side, both a bit older but not so old where they couldn’t be natural friends. Daniella grinned and then nodded just a little bit. That look told me everything. She’d been accepted. I knew we would be coming to church every week, and we would linger after every service, and Daniella would start building relationships very quickly. She would make friends, and I would continue to come across as a bore. Daniella would be the one who wanted to get married, and I was the one trying to stall it. Daniella would be the good guy, the victim, and I would be the villain. It was all set up perfectly for her.
And I knew that we would be breaking up very, very soon.
To be continued! If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s gotten kind of long), start here. Or click on “The Literary Girlfriend” category to select a chapter.
The great thing about watching a movie based on classic literature is that there should be a sense of familiarity that comes with it. If a movie is based on classic literature, you should know ahead of time what the story is. There shouldn’t be many surprises. But this is Hollywood we’re talking about. Sometimes moviemakers want to update the book and end up with a movie that is unrecognizable from the classic novel it was based on.
I’m not complaining that the unrecognizable movies based on classic literature are bad. The problem is that anybody who sees a misleading movie based on classic literature might try reading the book afterward and then have a “What the F…!” moment. If you try reading certain classic novels after seeing a movie that changed everything up, it could keep you from reading more classic novels (not that avoiding certain classic novels is a bad thing).
The following is a (not complete) list of movies that took waaaayyyy too many liberties with the classic novels that they’re based on.
The War of the Worlds
Tom Cruise is not in the novel, and the book is not very exciting by today’s standards. To be fair, no modern film maker is going to set War of the Worlds back in the early 1900’s, but it could be awesome if they did! I might go see it, as long as Tom Cruise isn’t in it. I’ve seen too many movies with Tom Cruise in them.
BEST TRICK EVER (to play on teenagers)!
- Tell kids about the Orson Welles radio program based on The War of the Worlds and explain how a bunch of listeners thought the radio program was real and started panicking.
- Listen to the kids as they make fun of people who panicked (probably calling them “dumb” or stupid”).
- A few minutes later tell the same kids that you just heard Justin Bieber is going out with Katy Perry.
- Watch the kids as they react with disgust, disdain (or whatever probable negative reaction they have).
- Explain to the kids that they just fell for a vicious rumor without verifying it (just as the radio listeners automatically believed what they heard on a radio program).
- Laugh at the kids as they completely miss the connection.
The Frankenstein monster in the novel is far scarier than the movies’ Frankenstein’s monsters, but it’s tough for some readers to understand that because of Mary Shelley’s writing style. And whenever somebody tries to make a version of Frankenstein that is close to the novel, the audience always gets mad, and the movie tanks. Sorry, Mary Shelley, but Frankenstein’s monster has a flat head with a bunch of staples in it. And he’s not very introspective.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney animated version)
This has to be one of the most bizarre animated movies I’ve seen, with a happy ending (what?). I’d love to see what Disney would do with Romeo and Juliet, or Oedipus Rex, or The Awakening. Some classics are not for little kids.
The Last of the Mohicans
I can watch the last hour of this movie, and it always seems new. I can read the novel over and over again, and it always seems new… but for a different reason.
The movie doesn’t take that many liberties for Hollywood, but the movie is far more watchable than the movie is readable. Therefore, somebody trying to read the book after viewing the movie might toss the novel away in disgust (not that I’ve ever done that with The Last of the Mohicans or any other book).
Yet another movie where Will Smith says, “Aw, Hell no!” But at least none of his kids were in it.
The movie was kind of fun, but c’mon; that wasn’t Sherlock Holmes!
Speaking of Robert Downey Jr….
WHAT ALMOST MADE THE LIST
Yeah, Iron Man is a comic book and not a classic (Maybe some of those Tales of Suspense comics were classic, but the Captain America stories were usually way better, except for that two-issue Iron Man vs. Submariner fight that crossed over into Tales to Astonish and…. Never mind). The point is that the first Iron Man movie was one of the BEST SUPERHERO MOVIES EVER, but Iron Man has almost always been a sucky comic book. Anybody reading an Iron Man comic book after seeing the first movie had to be disappointed.
The reason it’s not on the list is that Troy wasn’t that good of a movie (but had a few great scenes) so it didn’t make a lasting impression on anyone (except those who liked seeing a shirtless Brad Pitt with long hair). Also, it wasn’t called The Iliad.
What other movies based on classic literature were misleading? How was The Great Gatsby? The Raven? Catching Fire? Do you enjoy the movies that are faithful to the literature, or do you like the ones that are misleading?
When I first started reading, I took pride in finishing every book I started. In elementary school, I finished Harold and the Purple Crayon, even though Harold was getting out of control. In middle school, I finished The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, even though I was being mocked for carrying big books around the school (they were WAR books, I explained… luckily, I had a copy of Massage Parlor II that kept me from getting beat up). In high school, I finished Noble House, despite having to read a bunch of Willa Cather books in my English class. In college, I finished reading The Mists of Avalon, even after my girlfriend broke up with me for calling it a “woman’s book.”
But somewhere along the way, I lost my passion for finishing books. I became more critical of books I read and I began noticing how much time it took to read some of them. I finished Sarum by Richard Rutherford, but I gave up on Russka. I stopped reading a Colleen McCullough Rome book within the first hundred pages (I almost got kicked out of my family’s Thanksgiving dinner for that) because I already knew what was going to happen (and it was waaaaayyyy too long).
It’s an internal debate that many book readers have. If you don’t like a book, should you finish reading it? I try to be unbiased when I answer the tough questions.
3 REASONS TO FINISH A BOOK YOU DON’T LIKE
1. You get a Sense of Accomplishment.
I like to brag that I finished Moby Dick (even though I didn’t) and Crime and Punishment. I even brag that I finished War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, and The Brothers Karamazov, but I’m lying when I brag about them. Still, it feels way better to brag and tell the truth than to brag and lie.
2. You can actually judge a book if you finish it.
You don’t really know if an entire book sucks until you’ve read the whole thing. A couple years ago, I gave up on The Passage by Justin Cronin about halfway. I heard later that the ending was pretty good and that I had missed out on a good ending simply because I was too eager to give up on the book. Maybe I should have finished it, but I’m glad that somebody else finished it for me.
Maybe I would have appreciated Moby Dick if I had finished it. I’m open to that possibility, but not open enough to finish it and find out.
3. You finish what you start!!!!!!
I grew up in a household where we were taught to finish what we started. I learned that you don’t leave a job unfinished or halfass…errr… halfhearted. You give 100%, or you give nothing. You eat all the food on your plate. You stay awake during church. You complete all your homework. And you finish every book you start. Once that’s ingrained, it doesn’t go away… until your parents aren’t looking.
To this day, I eat all the food on my plate (but I get to choose the food now), I stay awake in church (when I go), I make sure all my work gets completed (so I get paid). But finish every book I start? Not anymore.
3 REASONS TO NOT FINISH A BOOK YOU DON’T LIKE
1. There are always other books to read.
Every moment you waste reading a book you don’t like is a moment you’re not reading a book you might enjoy. Reading isn’t supposed to be an endurance test, unless it’s for academic purposes. Think of all the enjoyment you’re missing out on just so you can “endure” a book you don’t like.
2. You save a lot of time.
I hate it when I spend money on a book and then don’t finish it. To me, that’s wasted money. Yeah, wasted money ticks me off, but wasted time is even worse. I’m at an age where I’m much more aware of how much time I have left (even in the best case scenarios). I don’t mean that to be grim, but I’m not wasting my time reading an unenjoyable book if I don’t have to. Me reading a book I don’t like is similar to former President Bush (the first one) eating broccoli. He doesn’t have to eat broccoli anymore, and I don’t have to finish books I don’t like.
3. You don’t HAVE to read an entire book to judge it.
Once you read a few chapters of almost any book, you know what the rest of the book will be like. That’s true at least 90% of the time. I’m not sure where I pulled that 90% number, but it’s probably true. If enough people agree with me and keep repeating it, then it will be true whether it’s true or not. So I’m sticking with 90%.
This is pretty simple. It all depends on your purpose for reading the book that you don’t enjoy.
* If you’re reading for the challenge, finish the book.
* If you’re reading for the experience, finish the book.
* If you’re reading for enjoyment, don’t finish the book.
* If you want to make your decision on a book-by-book basis, then make your decision on a book-by-book basis.
Me? The only reason I read books anymore is for enjoyment, so my decision is always easy now. And it’s made life a lot less complicated.
What do you think? Do you finish every book you read? If not, how do you decide whether or not to finish a book you don’t like?
Even though we’d been living in sin for about three months, I didn’t know Daniella could sing. I’d never heard her sing before, not in the shower, not in the kitchen, not in the car with the stereo blasted up. I don’t think I’d ever heard her even hum. I’d known she could dance. I’d seen her dance crazy, and she was one of the few women who could look good while dancing crazy. But I hadn’t known she could sing, until she started doing it at church.
The St. Luke’s choir had just passed us during the processional hymn when Daniella started, somewhere in the second verse. I’d been surprised because she hadn’t even moved her lips during the first verse. I was a church lip-syncer because my out-of-tune, off-key crooning could throw off a whole section of the congregation. For the rest of the opening hymn, I didn’t even bother moving my lips. I just listened to Daniella. She didn’t sing in an overpowering way; she just had a quietly sweet voice and hit all the notes.
When the procession was over, I whispered to her,” I didn’t know you could….”
“SShhhh!” she said.
I stopped. What I wanted to say could wait until later. Maybe Daniella didn’t realize the implications, but her singing ability changed everything.
The choir was filled with a bunch of middle agers and a lot folk with white hair. They would welcome an attractive (extremely hot) young female who could carry a tune. If anything, Daniella might stand out too much, but if there was one thing that choir needed, it was youth. A soon as word got out that this newcomer could sing, she was going to get recruited. They wouldn’t even care she wasn’t Episcopalian yet. At least, some people wouldn’t care.
I thought about all of this as we knelt, stood, and sat throughout the service. Even during the sermon, which lasted only 12 minutes, all I could think was, Daniella can sing. How did I never notice that? I wracked my brain, trying to think of a time when I’d heard Daniella sing. Maybe she had sung and I had never noticed. It could have happened. I wasn’t the most observant guy, and Daniella had a lot of other noticeable traits (but it was tacky to think of those traits while at church).
Even though I wanted to ask Daniella about her singing, she had been right to shush me. I was glad she cared about my behavior. Earlier, I had been worried that Daniella might cough loud or fake sneeze or eat corn chips loudly (like she had done once in the public library), but so far her behavior had been impeccable. I was proud of her. If she could sing and behave well, we (or she) might become accepted into the church.
I was still lost in thought while we were all standing when I heard the priest say, “The peace of the Lord always be with you!”
And the congregation chanted, “And also with you!”
Oh no, I thought. I hadn’t prepared Daniella for what was about to happen.
The congregation got loud, and in a panic, I turned to Daniella, grabbed her hand, and said “Peace be with you!” really loudly. Then I leaned in and said, “Just say ‘And also with you.’”
“What?” Daniella said. All around us, people hugged and talked loudly and shook hands and said “Peace be with you,” and “Peace,” and “And also with you.” It was a grand moment of chaos in an otherwise solemn service.
“Just smile,” I said loudly. That, she could do.
An old couple in the pew in front of us turned and shook hands with us. A middle aged woman sitting next to Daniella hugged her and reached for my hand. I pivoted and caught some hands behind me. Daniella’s head swiveled back and forth, fake smile planted on her face, hand out to the right, quick turn to the left. I think I uttered “And also with you” three times, and once I could only get out a “Peace!” before turning to another church-goer. And then it was over, and silence once again reigned supreme.
“What was that about?” Daniella said low with tight lips.
“Something I forgot to mention.” My lips didn’t move either.
I tried to think of something later on that might surprise her. The service continued, and she still knelt and stood whenever we were supposed to, without any sighing or muttering. When the offertory plate was passed down our row, she didn’t snatch the twenty I had tossed inside. During the post-offertory hymn, Daniella even began to sing more loudly. She was getting confident, even cocky.
Something came over me. Maybe it was reflex. As we began the second verse, I pointed to the lyrics of the fourth verse in the hymnal, and Daniella sang the wrong words, belting out maybe four or five syllables before realizing the mistake. She halted, and several other people around us stopped and listened to the choir to see who was right. When Daniella gave me a dirty look, I mouthed a fake apology. My older brother used to point to the wrong verse in church 15 years earlier, to throw me off when I had still been at least attempting to sing. He’d be glad to know the old trick still worked. Daniella rolled her eyes, and I thought that would be the end of it.
During communion, Daniella remained in the pew while I walked to the altar and knelt. I watched her as I returned to the pew. She saw me, cracked a quick smile, and then returned to serious face. After communion was done, the organ got loud again, side doors flew open, and a bunch of kids came running in from Sunday school to rejoin their families. The kids were loud and high-pitched. They ran. One girl in a dress slid down our pew, jumped on a tiny empty space next to Daniella, and leaped to her family sitting behind us. The acrobat was so quick that it startled Daniella.
“What the hell?” Daniella exclaimed before she could catch herself.
I laughed out loud, and so did a few people around us. Daniella looked down. I gauged the expressions of people surrounding us, and the disapproval was aimed more at the kid, not at Daniella. I knew I shouldn’t laugh, but Daniella seemed so mortified that I couldn’t help but react. The church was quieting down, and I shook, trying to keep from making any noise, which is tough, when I know I’m not supposed to laugh, but something mildly humorous snowballs into an uncontrolled fit. I could feel my face turn red. Maybe my ears were purple. Daniella had gotten so close, she had almost made it through the service. Of course, it was a little kid that had broken her.
“Shut up,” she whispered, even though I wasn’t making any noise.
Daniella’s admonishment only made it worse, and I was losing my breath, and as I sucked in air, I committed the unforgiveable sin.
The church got quiet, and I froze. Even the raucous children had suddenly settled down. I pretended I hadn’t done anything. I couldn’t believe that I had just snorted. I never snorted! I could feel others looking around, wondering where the snort had come from. I forced a serious expression and turned my head in several directions. Daniella scooted a couple inches away from me. I remained stoic for the next ten minutes of the service and didn’t even mouth words. During the recessional hymn, Daniella held her own book and sang.
When the service was over, and people started heading toward the exit, Daniella turned toward me again. “You snorted at me… in church!”
I mumbled an apology.
Daniella stared me in the eye, and then her grin started to form. I’d seen that look. I knew I wasn’t going to like what was about to happen. Daniella held my hand as we exited the pew (not a bad start). The side aisle was congested with people shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder, but we squeezed our way through. A robed lay-reader stood at the side exit, shaking hands as the congregation exited.
“Where’s the priest?” Daniella asked.
I pointed to the center exit where most attendees were leaving. Daniella pulled me through an emptied row of seats to the center aisle. Puzzled, I followed her. She was taking the lead, which she hadn’t done at church. She was intentionally heading for the priest, a jolly looking bald guy with white patches of hair along his ears. This wasn’t good, but I couldn’t resist her. I couldn’t tug back at her arm and argue with her about this, not in public. I didn’t like arguing with her in public. If she was doing what I thought she was doing, Daniella was violating our plan. Our agreement had been to go in and get out for the first few weeks and keep a low profile. Now Daniella was taking cruel advantage of my character flaw (my inability to argue in public) and breaking the plan.
As we stepped closer to the exit, I attempted to move in front of her, but she smoothly stepped into my path.
The priest’s eyes lit up when he saw Daniella (that happened with just about every guy, so why should a priest be any different?). He held out his hand and before he could say anything, Daniella grabbed it, and said:
“My name is Daniella. I really enjoyed your sermon,” And then she turned to me. “And this is my boyfriend, Jimmy.”
I smiled, but inwardly, I was thinking, “No! No! No!”
I hated it when Daniella deviated from my plans.
To be continued! If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s gotten kind of long), start here. Or click on “The Literary Girlfriend” category to select a chapter.
Each new year brings its own new literary controversy. Two years ago, the Pulitzer Prize didn’t give an award for fiction. Last Year Philip Roth and Elizabeth Gilbert disagreed over whether writing was “torture” or “f*cking great.” This year, famous author Isabel Allende unintentionally offended a bunch of book readers by accidentally insulting the mystery novel genre.
In an interview with NPR, Allende made some (disparaging?) remarks about current mysteries, saying they’re “too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people.” Allende says that her own recently released mystery novel Ripper is different than the mysteries that she is referring to. After her interview, a bunch of mystery fans got mad, and Allende apologized. Even worse, Allende said her controversial comments were made in jest.
I don’t know why Allende would backtrack, except for public relations purposes. I’ve read a few mysteries from the last couple years, and I agree with Allende and almost all her points. Most of the novels were dark, and violent with really bad people involved. The only part I disagreed with Allende was where she said the novels were very entertaining.
I’m not a fan of the fake/forced apology, especially with famous authors. There was a time when famous authors were supposed to be controversial. Did Dorothy Parker ever apologize for the mean things she said about public figures of her time? Did Gore Vidal ever apologize for his mean-spirited insults? If these literary figures never apologized (and were celebrated for making mean-spirited comments), why should Allende apologize? Allende didn’t even insult anybody. At worst, she insulted a genre.
I didn’t even know genres could get insulted. I can understand not wanting to insult people (it still happens), but it should be okay to insult a genre. A genre can’t have its feelings hurt. Allende didn’t say mystery readers were bad people; she said the characters in the genre were bad people. Yeesh! If you can’t make negative comments about a genre, what can you make negative comments about?
If genre readers want to get offended by Allende’s comments, I’ll really give them something to be offended about. Every genre can get insulted and stereotyped. For example, science fiction is a bunch of spaceships blowing each other up. Literary fiction is a bunch of eggheads trying to impress us with vocabulary and sentence structure and really complicated metaphors. Fantasy is a bunch of elves and wizards and barbarians and buxom women with no clothes on. Romance is a bunch of housewife wishful thinking. I’d keep going, but… Hold on! I think I just got a phone call from my publicist.
Sometimes I think people aren’t really offended when they say they’re offended (but I can’t read minds, so I don’t know for sure). I think people claim to be offended when they disagree with somebody, and that by claiming they’re offended, they don’t have to explain why they disagree; all that matters is that they’re offended. It’s a cheap, lazy debate technique, and it stifles honest debate. And sometimes people apologize when they shouldn’t have to apologize.
I’d love to hear what’s so offensive about saying too many mysteries are gruesome or violent or dark. Unfortunately, I won’t get that explanation because Allende has already apologized, so the offended ones don’t have to explain why they’re offended. I think the burden of proof should be on the person who is offended. I know being offended is usually not a legal matter, but if people can’t logically explain why they’re offended, then I don’t think they have any business being offended.
Since Ripper is Allende’s first mystery novel, she is also being criticized for writing in a genre that she doesn’t understand. I don’t know, but I like to see authors try something new. Too many authors stick to the same genre and simply write the same book over and over. Even if the book Ripper sucks, at least Allende isn’t writing the same thing all the time.
I have to admit, I didn’t know anything about Isabel Allende before I heard about this controversy. And it’s quite the controversy. A book store in Houston called Murder by the Book has even sent back twenty signed copies of Ripper over this. I would be offended by Murder by the Book’s overreaction, but I don’t get offended easily. In fact, I’m tempted to buy Ripper just to show my distaste for people who get offended too easily. The problem is that I don’t buy new books because they’re too expensive. Ugh. I hate it when my principles clash like that.
But enough about me! If you could accidentally offend any genre, which genre would it be? Is it wrong to offend a genre? Is it wrong to write a novel from a genre that you accidentally offended? Do you think people are offended too easily? And is asking too many questions at the end of a post offensive to you?
Last year, I didn’t read any books that were published in 2013. I probably shouldn’t admit that. Since I write a blog about books, people might expect me to keep up with all the current trends in the publishing world. That’s okay. I keep up with trends. I just don’t read the books.
It’s tough to read books the year they’re published. Hardcovers are expensive. New books get checked out from the library quickly. Having an e-reader helps because digital books are cheaper, but still, $12.00 for a new ebook is kind of pricey. This year, instead of ignoring the 2014 books, I’m taking advantage of free samples.
Because of free samples, I’ve begun reading several books published in 2014, but I haven’t finished any of them yet. That’s not a criticism. It’s tough to get me to pay my own money to purchase books anymore. If I spend more than $10.00 on a book, that means I’m confident I’ll like it a lot.
A book usually has to be original and interesting for me to purchase it. There have been a lot of murder mysteries published so far this year. Yeah, a lot of them are historical or in exotic locations or have weird twists, but a murder mystery is still a murder mystery and I’m kind of tired of murder mysteries. In January I said The Kept by James Scott was the “Best Book of 2014” (for a lot of bad reasons), but it’s kind of a murder mystery, so I probably won’t finish reading it.
Sometimes a writing quirk will keep me from reading a book. The Ascendant by Drew Chapman is an interesting book, and I may finish it if I find it for cheap, but the author had an awkward writing quirk. For example, early in the novel a character was described as “… brushing the few strands off his high, fifty-five–year-old forehead, a hint of annoyance seeping into his raspy, Brooklyn inflected voice.” To me, that’s an awkward method of telling the reader how old a character is and where he’s from. The author would have been better off just saying he character was 55 and from Brooklyn. Maybe that’s a silly reason for me not to continue reading a book, but the author used that technique several times in the first couple chapters.
Also, I know I’m not reading any James Patterson books in 2014, no matter how many he writes (or has written for him). I’ve mentioned James Patterson a lot recently. Maybe it seems as if I’m obsessed by him. I’m not. I don’t stalk him on social media. I don’t attack him in my blog titles. I don’t read any of his books and then complain about the number of books he writes (or has written for him). It’s just that when a guy writes 13 books in one year, he deserves to get made fun of a little bit. But I won’t read any of his (or his co-authors’) books.
Stephen King has two novels scheduled for release in 2014, and I probably won’t read those either. Every once in a while, I try reading a new Stephen King book, but I’m always disappointed. I’m not trying to bash Stephen King either. Stephen King is great for people who’ve never read Stephen King before, but after four or five books, it gets old.
Stephen King has a lot of loyal readers, though. The last time I almost got into a fight was about ten years ago when I told a guy reading a Stephen King book (I forget which one it was) that Stephen King was a hack. After a hostile exchange of words, the guy took a swing at me and missed and fell down. I was going to take a cheap shot at him while he was trying to get up, but I tripped over a stack of bundled newspapers. If you’re going to get into a physical altercation, pick on a book reader because we don’t know how to fight. Luckily, cell phones didn’t have cameras back then.
A bunch of celebrities will publish books this year, and I won’t read any of them, even if I can get them for free. I might listen to all the salacious details reported on the television shows when the books come out, but I won’t read the books. That takes time. Celebrities really don’t have much to offer a guy like me anymore. I don’t listen to new music anymore. I don’t watch many new movies or new television shows. I don’t care about celebrities anymore. And if a celebrity ever showed up at my house, the first thing I’d say is “GET OFF MY LAWN!!!”… even if he wasn’t on my lawn. That’s just the kind of person I’ve become.
The one book from 2014 so far that I might pay full price to read is Foreign Gods, Inc by Okey Ndibe. It has an interesting (and unique) plot, and it’s well-written, and it’s kind of funny, I think. I would write a synopsis, but I don’t write those anymore (other reviewers do a way better job of that than I do). I’m pretty sure it’s a book I’ve never read before. Most books that I read nowadays are books that I’ve read before, even if I’ve never read them before (I hope that makes sense). I’m pretty sure I’ve never read a book like Foreign Gods, Inc. before. And if I’m going to read a 2014 book in 2014, I want it to be a book I’ve never read before.
But enough about me! What books from 2014 have you read? What books from 2014 do you want to read but haven’t? Or are you going to wait until 2015 to read book published in 2014?
Taking Daniella to church just so she could find a rich husband was probably a bad idea. For one thing, she was my girlfriend, and men don’t normally try to find rich husbands for their hot chick girlfriends. But I was out of money, and Daniella was going to break up with me soon anyway (she just wouldn’t admit it), and so I figured if she needed me to help her find a rich potential husband, she’d have a reason to stick around longer. When you’re living in sin with a hot chick, you try to live with her as long as you can.
Despite the possibilities ahead of her, Daniella had been reluctant to get moving that morning. I’d had to force her out of bed and coax her every step of the way to get her to church. It should have been the other way around. I wasn’t eager to get her married off, but it must have seemed like it. Daniella really wanted somebody to pay her bills (even though she made a ton of money dancing), but she wasn’t enthusiastic about church. Then again, if Daniella really hadn’t wanted to come to church that morning, she could have already sabotaged it in a bunch of different ways, and she’d chosen not to. She had just needed a little push.
As soon as Daniella noticed all the luxury sedans surrounding us in the St. Luke’s parking lot, she perked up a little bit. She didn’t say anything, but I knew she was calculating the value of each car. She saw families dressed up, men in suits, even little boys in suits more expensive than mine. When we approached the chapel, we could see the church and the St. Luke’s Community Center sprawled behind it. Most of the complex seemed to have been built in the last ten years.
“This church has some serious money,” Daniella whispered.
I extended my free hand upward. “Marry an Episcopalian, and all this shall be yours,” I said.
She watched a row of dark luxury sedans pull in and fill the parking gaps. I thought of my dull economy-sized sedan that I had parked in the back of the lot. I really hadn’t wanted to be noticed.
“You could afford a car like that,” Daniella said as a family of five stepped out of a shiny black sedan.”
“I used to be able to afford a car like that,” I said.
Daniella laughed once and squeezed my hand.
Our plan was to sit through a few services before introducing ourselves. Then after the church community had accepted us, we’d break up and Daniella would remain at the church, where a bunch of wealthy suitors would be ready to console her. The challenge was getting Daniella to endure an entire church service without fake sneezing or sighing loudly or stealing money from the offering plates. If she could resist, then she had a chance. Part of me thought we were aiming too high by attending St. Luke’s first. The wealthiest of Episcopalians were members here. A Secretary of Something in Washington D.C. was a regular attendee, and several prominent local politicians were members. Since I was Daniella’s practice husband (kind of), I thought maybe we would be better off using a smaller church before we tried the big time. But Daniella was in a hurry. I wasn’t paying all of her bills anymore, so time was money.
Daniella clutched my hand as we entered the church. There were three greeters, one for each set of doors, and we chose the middle. The greeter smiled and handed each of us a program.
“Good morning,” the greeter said.
I responded with a hearty “Good morning!”
Daniella brushed up closer to me and looked down. When we entered, Daniella veered straight for a back pew, but I gently tugged her hand. Church wasn’t high school, I had told her earlier; she wasn’t going to get called on. I guided us to a pew about two-thirds of the way to the front. When everybody filled in, we would blend right in. The church was still half-empty, so we slid our way to the center of the pew without having to move anybody or put our butts in a bunch of faces.
Once we sat down, I knelt for a moment, and Daniella grabbed a Bible. Then she glanced through the Prayer Book and the Hymnal. She spent most of the time on the Hymnal. She occasionally looked up to inspect the stain glass windows or the sculptured rafters, but she didn’t want to seem like a tourist or a newcomer. As the church started to fill up, I noticed middle aged couples and families. Parents kissed/hugged their kids as they ran off to a side hallway for Sunday school. I didn’t see any jeans or t-shirts. Even though we were dressed appropriately, several people looked at us, maybe because we were strangers, maybe because of Daniella. Even with her thick black glasses and conservative attire, she attracted stares.
When the organist started up, Daniella grabbed the Bible again and flipped through it. “I had a boyfriend named Malachi once,” she whispered. “He was a dick.”
Nobody had heard her, probably because of the overpowering organ music, and Daniella continued as she paged through the Bible. “Matthew was a dick. James was a…” Then she grinned at me. “I haven’t decided about you yet. Why don’t you go by James? You act more like a James then a Jimmy.”
This was coming from a Daniella who let herself be called Danielle for a long time even though she looked more like a Daniella.
“You can look like a name?” I said, even though I knew what she meant.
“You’re too serious and polite to be a Jimmy,” she said with hushed voice. “A James dresses up nice for church. A Jimmy wears his cap on backwards on a sunny day. You never wear your cap backward.”
Backwards caps were for kids, I thought, but I didn’t say anything.
“Jimmy, not James,” Daniella said. She was teasing me. “Jimmy, not James. Why Jimmy?”
There was a reason I was Jimmy instead of James, and it had nothing to do with the Bible, but the church was filling up, the organist was getting intense, and the choir and the acolytes and the lay readers and the priest were all gathering in the back. It was almost show time.
When the procession began, Daniella and I shared a hymnal. For me, the worst part of church was always the hymns. I couldn’t sing, and when I tried to sing, people around me had to stop. I’d even get dirty looks from other church goers when I tried to sing, so I had resorted to mouthing words. I was pretty good at looking like I was singing. I could fake sing with lots of emotion. During the first verse, Daniella was quiet too. We hadn’t discussed singing. I had forgotten that I didn’t sing. Maybe she was following my lead. Her lips didn’t move. She stared at the book. At least I pretended.
As the choir marched past us, the second verse began, and Daniella opened her mouth. I could hear her. She was really singing. Her voice was soft and on key, and… she actually sounded good. I stopped pretending and kind of watched her for a while. She read the words, hit the notes, and held them just as long as the choir did.
I couldn’t believe it! Daniella could sing! I hadn’t known Daniella could sing. And after I thought about it for a moment, I realized that everything would change. Our relationship (whatever it was) was going to end a lot sooner than I had previously thought it would.