A Novel Lesson

Fiction teaches us all about the truth of life and the common threads in humanity. No matter where a novel is set or when it takes place, I am often struck with the feeling of being united with the protagonist in the struggles of life.  I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from my favorite rectangle shaped friends, and ask you to do the same. What have your favorite novels taught you?

1. I’ve mentioned the impact that Anne of Green Gables had on me in another blog, but must bring the series up here too. I think I lived on Prince Edward Island in a former life because this story resounds so strongly with me. I’ve known Anne, Marilla, Diana, Gilbert, Rachel Lynde, Ruby Gillis, and Josie Pye my entire life. They are as real to me as my flesh and blood friends. That statement may send me to therapy one day, but there it is. For better or worse, this book series helped make me who I am today. Enough of that though, on to what the books taught me–besides ejaculation.

Never make fun of a red-headed girl unless you want a slate cracked over your head.

Always keep your home in apple-pie order just like anyone raised by Marilla Cuthbert ought to.

When you want to play the Lady of Shallot, check your dingy for leaks.

If a boy makes fun of you, show him up by correctly spelling “chrysanthemum” in front of the class.

Check every doughnut box for fireworks prior to chucking the box into the furnace.

Always have an extra bottle of ipecac.

Wear puffed sleeves without exception. The bigger the better.

Talk to flowers and trees.

Being smart is better than being good looking.

Recite poetry. Recite it with dramatic flair.

Jonah days come to everyone.

Live beside the sea if you can and seek out a lighthouse keeper/former seaman to live within walking distance of you. Trust me on this one.

Bosom friends and kindred spirits are the best things about life on this planet.

2. Tolkien. What an amazing writer and map drawer.  I read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy about every two years, and see something new and amazing each time. The world he crafted in Middle Earth, complete with thousand-year-old-legends, battle histories, and all types of fascinating creatures never ceases to dial up my sense of wonder.

Things that reading Tolkien has taught me:

Hobbits are the shit! Lovers of good food, good drink, good parties, and good fireworks. They are steadfast and faithful friends, which leads me to my next one.

Everyone needs a Sam Gamgee in their life.

Rings are powerful things.

Tom Bombadill must do mushrooms or acid. No one acts like that, even if they’re a metaphor of the creator.

Trolls are stupid.

It’s handy to have a good relationship with eagles if you’re ever in a tight spot.

The desire for power will corrupt you.

Trees are people too.

You can live on a diet of elven bread for weeks.

It’s a dangerous business stepping outside your door.

Sometimes an unexpected party is the best kind.

Showing mercy on pitiful creatures may save us all in the end.

3. I read Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree upon a friend’s recommendation. Once I got myself past the lack of punctuation, namely commas and quotations, I really enjoyed the read and learned much from this wayward anti-hero, such as:

Everyone needs a J-Bone in their life. (see the Sam Gamgee and bosom friend comment above…I see a trend in my life lessons.) One never knows when one will become fatally ill and pass out in a communal bathroom. J-Bone WILL find you and carry you to safety.

Do not molest watermelons. If you simply can’t help yourself, avoid getting caught.

Don’t throw trash in the river. All the descriptions of the Tennessee River with garbage floating in it made me sad.

You can make money by poisoning flittermice.

A story doesn’t have to be far-fetched, fanciful, or overly dramatic to be interesting. Our everyday life is the story.

Living plainly, with little earthy possessions can be a sweet life.

Early Times is the “best drink they is.”

Avoid mudslides during storms on the river.

Moral ambiguity isn’t all bad.

4. The Devil Wears Prada–because we can’t read legit lit all the time. This is my go-to read when I’m feeling frumpy. Immersing myself in the world of haute couture and the bustle of NYC is as good of a pick me up as a chocolate bar. Often I read this while eating chocolate for a total emotional lift. Things An-dre-ah Sachs has taught me:

Learn to drive a stick shift. This is still on my to-do list, but I mean to do so soon.

When two belts look identical, keep your mouth shut.

Gay best friends are tops at helping you look your best.

There is such a thing as “too skinny.”

“That’s all.” never really means “That’s all.”

There are few things more intimidating than a tall woman walking confidently in a four inch pair of stilettos.

Don’t trust handsome writers who brag on your writings.

Don’t ignore your boyfriend.

Don’t ignore your alcoholic best friend, especially if she has been listening to Jeff Buckley non-stop.

What seems the most important thing in the world may not be. Take a step back and assess your perspective.

5. Pride and Prejudice How could a list of novels not include this one? I could crawl into this book and wallow around in the pages of it, I love it so.
Lizzy and I would’ve been best friends! I actually think my best girlfriends are real life variations of Elizabeth Bennett. Things I’ve learned from reading P&P:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Entailing estates to male heirs is a piss poor idea.

Keep an eye on Kitty and Lydia at all times.

Mr. Collins is always good for a laugh, even if he is unaware of this fact.

Men, when proposing, always behave in a gentleman-like manner.

Women, don’t be too hasty to believe handsome men when they tell you how they’ve been wronged by another.

Lady Catherine’s buttresses are quite impressive.

If you want to snag a man, ride a horse through the rain, get very sick, and stay at his place until you’re well.

Stay off of Mrs. Bennett’s nerves.

If you feel affection for someone, show it, otherwise you run the risk of losing them.

Visit a man’s house before declining his marriage proposal.

The saddest one: Mr. Darcy doesn’t really exist.

Ok, now share yours! What have you learned from your own adventures with fictional characters?


About sharonthemezzo

Sharon Edwards, a born performer, hoarder of books, pursuer of the highest callings of humanity, and librarian in training resides in rural Tennessee with her home-brewing husband and two beautiful kids. She can be seen, mostly heard, in various community theater productions.

5 responses to “A Novel Lesson

  1. One of my favorite novels is the underrated “Handling Sin,” by Michael Malone. The central character, Raleigh Hayes, is a repressed but upstanding citizen from a small town in North Carolina. His father, a defrocked Episcopal priest, suddenly runs off (for reasons that don’t become clear until later, and which are, quite obviously, misunderstood) with a 16-year-old black woman. He sends Raleigh cryptic messages and tasks to complete, launching Raleigh on a cross-country road trip in search of what is promised to be a family fortune. It’s a great book, with a great message about love and openness and acceptance, and Raleigh at the end of it is a much more alive human being than he was at the beginning of it. In some ways, I can’t say that I’ve learned the lesson so much as that I’ve aspired to learn it.

    • Love, openness, and acceptance? From our conversations and observing you in the community, I’d say you’ve more than learned them–apart from how you routinely felt me up onstage. 😉

  2. Beth

    I have read most of those you listed, and love them all, but a recent read is A Place to Call Home, by Deborah Smith. I’ve read it a few times, and it’s better each time. Set in a small town in Southern Georgia from the 60s to the 90s, it’s a great story about the so-called generosity of uppity southern families toward the brutally poor folks at the other end of town. It’s a drama mostly, but of course romantic! Lessons I learned:
    1. Hell hath no fury like a southern matriarch in a small town scorned by the British newcomer.
    2. Some brands of kindness are hard to abide.
    3. Never argue with a drunk, a skunk, or a red-headed woman.
    4. A person can never be too careful with her privates. Especially if she doesn’t know what they are.
    5. Nothing says “welcome home!” like a gift of warm, fluffy biscuits, green bean casserole, and sweet tea.
    Most of these are direct quotes from the book. Smith really has a flair for metaphors, and concise descriptions that put you right in the story.

  3. deweydecimalsbutler

    Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice taught me to always temper my justice with mercy. Mercy provides a double blessing. It blesses the giver as well as the receiver. Enjoyed your post a lot. Thank you.

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