Passage of the Week


I often use Twitter to post particularly funny, quirky, or profound quotes from my day’s reading. But frequently, I find myself wanting to share with the world (that is, the handful of folks who read my tweets) longer passages – paragraphs or even whole pages that leap out at me in their awesomeness. Whether pretty, strange, clever, or wise, these passages all deserve a closer look. Some may contain a lesson for the writer, but they’re all packed full of plenty for the reader to chew on.

While reading, I dog-ear the pages on which these passages appear (fear not, bibliophiles – if the book is especially beautiful, valuable, or meaningful to me, I use Post-it notes in order to keep the pages pristine) so that I will remember to revisit them at a later date, and so that I can do so easily. Together, these pages form a sort of library within a library – a secret collection of gems hiding in plain sight.

Because I often find myself stammeringly attempting to recite these passages to friends in the middle of conversations – and in the process do the author, the book, the passage, and the English language an enormous disservice – I’ve decided to share the passages here, on my blog, out-of-context, in the hopes that they will be admired on their own, and that they’ll further inspire you to go out and read more.

I’ve decided to call this the “Passage of the Week,” even though I may post more or less frequently than once a week. After all, you never quite know what you’re going to find between the covers of a book. There are weeks when I feel like I’m dog-earing every other page of every book I read, and at times, a month will pass during which the books I pick up leave me bored and uninspired.

For the first Passage of the Week, I’m posting a page from Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, The book, like all of Spinelli’s novels, is full of humor, deep feeling, and a profound, guiding wisdom. Fast-paced scenes and firecracker dialogue alternate with slow, meditative passages and bursts of pure poetry. This passage has Leo, our narrator, summing up an important conversation that he and Stargirl have over a stretch of days – a conversation, it could be said, that the novel itself, from the first page to the last, is also having with itself.


. . .

From “Stargirl,” by Jerry Spinelli (pp. 137-138)


We continued this conversation for the next couple of days. I explained the ways of people to her. I said you can’t cheer for everybody. She said why not? I said a person belongs to a group, you can’t belong to everyone. She said why not? I said you can’t just barge into the funeral of a perfect stranger. She said why not? I said you just can’t. She said why? I said because. I said you have to respect other people’s privacy, there’s such a thing as not being welcome. I said not everybody likes having somebody with a ukulele sing “Happy Birthday” to them. They don’t? she said.

This group thing, I said, it’s very strong. It’s probably an instinct. You find it everywhere, from little groups like families to big ones like a town or school, to really big ones like a whole country. How about really, really big ones, she said, like a planet? Whatever, I said. The point is, in a group everybody acts pretty much the same, that’s kind of how the group holds itself together. Everybody? she said. Well, mostly, I said. That’s what jails and mental hospitals are for, to keep it that way. You think I should be in jail? she said. I think you should try to be more like the rest of us, I said.

Why? she said.

Because, I said.

Tell me, she said.

It’s hard, I said.

Say it, she said.

Because nobody likes you, I said. That’s why. Nobody likes you.

Nobody? she said. Her eyes covered me like the sky. Nobody?

I tried to play dumb, but that wasn’t working. Hey, I said, don’t look at me. We’re talking about them. Them. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t change a thing. You’re fine with me the way you are. But we’re not alone, are we? We live in a world of them, like it or not.

That’s where I tried to keep it, on them. I didn’t mention myself. I didn’t say do it for me. I didn’t say if you don’t change you can forget about me. I never said that.

Two days later Stargirl vanished.


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