A Swamp in Each Eye


One of the wonderful things about being retired (or semi-retired) is that I have more time to read, something I’ve looked forward to for many years. I once asked a co-worker who’d taken the summer off what she had done all summer. She considered the question about ten seconds and said, “I read 23 books.” I was astounded. Jealous too. Would I ever have that much leisure time?

That conversation took place about a decade ago, and although I haven’t averaged 23 books every three months, I’ve put a dent in the stack. As I ponder what I’ve learned, experienced, and imagined as a consequence of reading so much more, I find myself wondering what people think about who don’t read. What they’re having for dinner or how nice the weather is? I think about those things too. But I also think about young Liesel and her friend with the lemon colored hair, Zora May and Sara Jane, and the Little Red Hen. Yes, even her.

Books take you to alternate universes…or at least to other times and places. Sometimes they teach lessons, and other times their words simply entertain you or inform you about a time in history. Their authors have different ways of seeing and describing the world around them, and their words offer you the chance to peek inside a chicken’s kitchen, mountain cabin, a mental ward, a condo foyer, a basement harboring a Jew, or an “intestate earth.”

Below are a few of my favorite passages from recently read books.

“So I finally got enough for a loaf of bread. So I baked it. You’re seen the pictures, me in my little red hen apron, holdng the loaf with its plume of aroma in between the tips of my wings, smiling away. I smile in all the pictures, as much as I can smile, with a beak. Whenever they said Not me, I smiled. I never lost my temper.” (“The Little Red Hen Tells All,” Margaret Atwood} When my children were little, I told the little red hen’s story so often that she was practically a member of the family. One of my daughters began dreaming of having a little red car like hers, one that would smoothly take the curves around the hillside as she drove to the mill with her wheat.

“There is so much in this world I’ll never know, that I’ll never understand, but one thing I know for certain, there is a bond of sisterhood and friendship that overrides all things. It came to me before sunup the next morning as a ready-made rescue with tears and hugs that drew me in, almost suffocating me with its warmth and safety.” (Kim Boykin, The Wisdom of Hair}  A powerful statement and one that I want to believe, this is one of the passages that the author read at a recent book club meeting.

“She was a witness for a woman chained to a heavy metal ring cemented into the stone wall, clothes covered with feces, fingernails on one hand chewed to the quick and on the other longer than a laundry peg. The woman scratched and gouged her own face, arms, and legs. Open sores oozed. A boy, eyes dull as old pewter, leaned against the woman who rocked constantly and was likely the child’s mother.” {One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix, Jane Kirkpatrick} Some people have to suffer so much! And some people have huge hearts and strong spirits as they crusade for justice.

“It was cold. I remember, and I invited her into the foyer, no further. For two weeks I’d been channel-flipping through the Desert Shield updates, swallowing back the anger and guilt my brother’s act had left me with, and hanging up in the ears of reporters and TV types–all those bloodsuckers trying to book and bag next week’s freak show. I didn’t offer to take Mrs. Fenneck’s coat. I stood there, arms crossed, fists tucked into my armpits. Whatever this was, I needed it to be over.” {Wally Lamb, This Much I Know is True} My writer friends say, “Show, don’t tell.” Can’t you see Dominick’s aggravation and annoyance as he stands with his fists tucked into his armpits?

“At times, she would watch him. She decided that he could best be summed up as a picture of pale concentration. Beige-colored skin. A swamp in each eye. And he breathed like a fugitive. Desperate yet soundless. It was only his chest that gave him away for something alive.” {Markus Zusak, The Book Thief} To me, this is another show, don’t tell example as Liesel watches Max who is hidden in the family basement.

“They squatted in the road and ate old rice and cold beans that they’d cooked days ago. Already beginning to ferment. No place to make a fire that would not be seen. They slept huddled together in the rank quilts in the dark and the cold. He held the boy close to him. So thin. My heart, he said. My heart.” {Cormac McCarthy, The Road} I’ve commented on this beautiful, sad book a lot lately. As the father holds his son close, the reader feels not only the love that the man feels for the boy but also the cold, the discomfort, and even the fear.

What about you? Do you have a favorite passage that moved you in some way? It doesn’t have to be from a book; it could be from a poem, an article, or a short story. Just share something that resounded with you.

About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
This entry was posted in books, reading, stories, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Swamp in Each Eye

  1. speaksfc says:

    I’m on the hunt for new books! Definitely going to have to round the ones you mentioned up!


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