Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Book Report - Les Miserables

[The following account is fiction. Any similarities to real people are purely coincidental.]

I guess it really hit me when I told my sister Shirley that I wanted to go to France. She didn't understand that at all. 

"I just don't even have a desire to go anywhere else. Why...all there is to see in Europe or Asia are some crumbly old buildings that smell like dirty socks or moldy cheese. Can you imagine having to raise a family out there among all those non-Mormons?"

This came from someone who had never gone farther from home than southern Idaho. I suppose her visit there left a nasty taste in her mouth for the rest of the outside world...all those potato fields can be hard on almost anyone. I tried to convince her that Twin Falls was probably not the best place from which to judge the rest of creation.

"If you've seen one place out there you've seen them all and you're better off not seeing them anyway and staying put where your children can grow up with other children of their own faith. Besides don't you remember what happened to Mac Norton last year when he went off to New York to work for the summer?" added Shirley.

"No, can't say as I remember that anything happened to Mac", I replied.

"Well, he came back with that awful looking beard and wore sandals to church until the Bishop talked to him about how he was having the wrong kind of influence on the young boys."

I didn't say it to Shirley, but I really liked Mac's beard and I was sorry he'd shaved it off. That's not the main point here though. The point is that Shirley was just saying what the rest of the ward members would have said. They were good people, in fact they were exceptionally good people, but they didn't have the same vision of the world that I did. I just knew it. I was the only one that really understood the world. I wanted to go places and see different people; I wanted to walk where Shakespeare and Dickens had walked; I wanted to climb the tower of London and walk through the halls of Notre Dame; I wanted to see the view from the top of the Great Wall and gaze out across Athens from the Parthenon. And then I wanted to write about the places and people I had seen.

It would be a great novel, one that would touch the lives of millions of people - and, of course, sell a million copies. I would use the money made from the book for charitable causes, since it's a sin to daydream about getting rich unless you plan to use the money for charity. Yes, I would write a great novel, win the Nobel Prize and maybe the Pulitzer Prize as well and then give it all to the poor. That's what Jean Valjean would have done.

You know Jean Valjean...I'm sure I've told you about him before. this going to help me with my book report?

Of course, just hang with me for a couple minutes here son. Let's see, where was I...oh yes, Les Miserables.

No book...and I had read quite a few for an almost-sixteen year book had ever, nor do I think another will ever, affect me as deeply as Les Miserables. I read it as an assignment in English class. We had to choose a book from a list of 20 or 30 approved books given to us by Mr. Mohr. Almost everyone in class did the same thing; we went to the library, looked at all of the books to see how many pages they had, and then picked the book with the fewest pages. I think I picked out The Old Man and the Sea and figured I could read it over lunch one day. No one even thought of trying a book with more than 150 pages...well almost no one. I wasn't going to be different, but then Darcie made some rude remark to me in French class like:"Oh! Is that your book for English? I'm sorry, I thought it was my bookmark."

I couldn't think of a really appropriate response because she was reading a book with at least 500 pages and because I always got a little flustered around Darcie, but I made a lame attempt anyway.

"Oh, this is just my warm-up book. I plan to read a couple more books on the list as well. I hope you haven't bitten off too much with that book of yours, Darcie. You'll have to read faster than you usually do to finish it before graduation two years from now."

You really said that dad?

Yeah, not one of those really snappy comebacks that I was known for around school, but, nonetheless, it had an effect.

Darcie gave me a squishy look and ignored me for the rest of the class. I went back to the library the next day and checked out the longest book on the list - Les Miserables – 1,259 pages. I carried it around school for a couple of weeks just to leave a deep impression on all those who were reading The Old Man and the Sea and to make sure Darcie saw it. I didn't really intend to read the monster, it was just for effect. But then Mr. Mohr saw me with it in class one day and he made me come to the front of the class with the book. It was horrible!

He smiled and held the book high for everyone to see and said: "Class, I have been noticing the books that all of you have chosen to read this term. Brian is the only one who has the drive and courage to tackle a book of this magnitude. I wish you would all be a bit more adventurous, for this is truly a great book. Thank you, Brian. You may return to your seat."

That was when I realized how clueless teachers are. I hope I never do something like that to you son. It was embarrassing, humiliating, and degrading! I'm sure he meant well, but teachers simply have no brains at all. They drag you out in front of everyone else and make you out to be a complete idiot under the pretence of giving you a compliment.

I don't think I would have minded it too much, dad.

Well, just wait a couple years and you'll understand. Anyway...

When I returned to my seat I couldn't help but notice the cheesy grin on Darcie's face. She knew I had no intention of reading that book. I went home that night a bit dejected and feeling very much like the title of the book. I knew I would have to read Les Miserables now and I really was miserable as I opened the book and began to read. I didn't realize that no one ever reads the whole thing. What they do is go and find one of the many shortened, condensed versions. Why, if I had only looked, my mother (your grandmother) had the Reader's Digest condensed version sitting right on the shelf at home, all 250 pages of it. Well, I never knew about them and I'm glad I didn't. I read every one of the 1,259 pages, and by the time I reached the scene where the Bishop gives Jean Valjean the candlesticks and redeems his soul, I was lost in a magical world from which I would only surface occasionally for food and sleep. I couldn't think of anything else for weeks even after I closed the last page. I couldn't even think about Darcie, although she was all I had been thinking about before. I felt like it was my book, my personal treasure that no one else would ever quite understand it. I was glad that all the rest of the class had not read this great book. They didn't deserve to be a part of this new world that now was mine.

I read it again before our assignment was due and wrote a report that got me the A grade I wanted, but I didn't really care about the grade. And I certainly didn't want to talk about the report or the grade with anyone, like I usually would have. I couldn't. It was too personal…too sacred almost. But, of course, Darcie couldn't let it slide.

"What's the matter Brian?"

She was trying to get a peek at my paper. And she was using that sweet sarcastic voice that normally would have had me primed for a sarcastic comeback.

"Oh, dear. Did wittle Bri-Bri not get the highest grade in the class? That is so tragic."

She puckered her lips up into a pout, but I just sat there, my eyes gazing off into space. How could she not understand? It was all so clear to me now. I was Marius...and Darcie...she was Cosette. I'd guess I'd really known it for a long time, but before reading Les Miserables I'd ignored it. I couldn't ignore it anymore.

Darcie leaned closer over my desk and grabbed for my report, but as she did it her long dark hair brushed against my arm. I don't really know what came over me then...everything happened so fast that it's kind of a blur in my memory...but as she grabbed for the report, the next thing I remember is that I had pulled her face next to mine and kissed her. But the best part was that she was kissing me back!

So, you may or may not believe me, but if I hadn't read Les Miserables I would have never kissed your mother. And if we hadn't kissed, you wouldn't be here today.

But dad, I'm only in second grade...Les Miserables isn't on my reading list. I've got to choose between Rah Rah Radishes, Junie B. Jones, and Splat the Cat.

I see...perhaps you should go ask your mother. Just don't tell her about the whole Les Miz thing. Her version's a little different than mine.


Jill said...

oh good, good, loved it - of course, I'm picturing you, not brian, and it would have to be julee, right? And I don't even know the plot for Les Miserables..bad me.

Karen said...

That was a fun story. I would advise him to choose Junie B.... she's always good for a laugh.