I carry my books with me, literally and figuratively. From Matilda to Between the World and Me so many characters, stories, scenes, and lines have stayed with me throughout my life. Most recently I found myself carrying around a line from Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King. A character mentions how every time she asks herself “Why me?” her response is always “Why not me?” I’ve found myself turning this over a lot lately, in response to myself and those I know. While I’ve always found myself applying the “why not me” to myself in the positive sense, like if up for a job why wouldn’t I get it, I realized I don’t ever apply this in negative situations. In the latter it’s so easy, almost like an instinct, to immediately respond to things with the “Why me?” mentality. To sink into this idea and wrap oneself in a pity/victim blanket. BUT to process it further, to step back, and to ask myself “Why not me?”—and “Why not you?”— well, that’s something to work on. I find myself questioning somewhere in the back of my mind where I(we) learned to automatically react with “Why me?” Pondering the uncomfortable question Does it mean I(we) think we’re better than? I think of the amount of times I’ve asked “Why them?” while processing someone’s tragedy/misfortune. Is it just a natural way of coping? But if we don’t move past that thought does it keep us from getting better? From being better?
As I continue thinking on all the implications of that line, working on it, and applying it, I decided to ask fellow Rioters what lines from books have stayed with them:
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: “For the music to be over so soon. For the music to be over when it had just begun. That was really sad.”
I read this book at a time when I was going through some hard feelings of sudden loss. This particular thought spoke deeply to me, because it acknowledged the terrible suddenness of death, in a simple, poignant way. This moment soothed a wound I didn’t realize I had been carrying. — Sharanya Sharma
Bossypants by Tina Fey: “We don’t fucking care if you like it.”
If you’ve read my posts, you will know I am a feminist. Of course I know Fey has done her share of problematic things, but I always think back to her story about Jimmy Fallon disliking something she and Amy Poehler did because it wasn’t “cute” enough. Fey recounts Poehler went black in the eyes and told him, in no uncertain terms, that women don’t fucking care if a man dislikes something they are doing.
When I am feeling especially rebellious or when a man interjects with “Well, actually…” I think back to Poehler and what she said at that moment. And then, I go black in the eyes and say: “I DON’T FUCKING CAAAAREEEE!!!” And let me tell you, more often than not, it’s pretty liberating. For this, I will be forever grateful to Fey and Poehler. —Nicole Froio
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell: “Love and hate hold hands always.”
I started volunteering as an advocate at my local domestic violence shelter in college. I had no personal experience with abuse or controlling relationships, but I had my feminist ideals, my deep capacity for empathy, and lots of training. I answered crisis calls and listened to women talk about their living situations, their struggles, their relationships. I connected women to services to help them leave abusive partners and helped them file for protection orders. I sometimes watched them go back to their abusers. While intellectually I understood their choice was not for me to judge, I couldn’t ever quite grasp how their choices were possible. How could anyone love someone who abused them, and how could you abuse someone you claimed to love? Research in psychology and social work shed some insight, but it wasn’t until I read Winter’s Bone that I understood emotionally how it was possible. The simple phrase “love and hate hold hands always” captured that thin line between two seemingly polar intense emotions and helped me understand these women who had experiences so different from my own. —Molly Wetta
Come to the Edge by Christina Haag: “There are places one falls for as deeply and as devotedly as for a lover.”
I’ve talked about this book seemingly non-stop since I first discovered it in 2012 and then bumped into its author online and we became Twitter friends. The lines that mean the most to me change according to what’s going on in my life, but I’ve thought of this one often recently. I love DC so much it almost physically hurts and for reasons I can’t fully explain – as happens with people sometimes. I’m applying for a visa so I can stay past September and hoping hard that it’s successful. It will be as painful as a breakup if I have to leave. — Claire Handscombe
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan: “She woke, and she was herself.”
This, the final line of the novel, made such an impact on me that, months after reading it, when I was feeling as though I had lost myself, I got those words tattooed on the inside of my right forearm. I wanted to be reminded that no matter what I went through, I would find myself at the end. That’s what happened in the book – and I’m pretty sure that I will never go through anything as dramatic as what she had to endure. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, When She Woke is a futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter. And it’s pretty awesome. —Cassandra Neace
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard: “Beauty is real. I would never deny it; the appalling thing is that I forget it.”
Because the beauty around me is never something I want to forget. —Valerie Michael
Is there a line from a book that has stayed with you?