What is it about books? How is it that some seem to grip us so? Why are there those that transcend time and remain pertinent throughout the ages? Is there one common denominator found within the literary classics? Think about it – from Homer to Shakespeare, Margaret Mitchell to Louisa May Alcott, even Jane Austen to, dare I say, M. Hill – what is it about the way a story is constructed that makes it last?
Well, I think the answer is fundamentally simple. It's in the words. Yup, the words. Words are magical; and the way they're strung together on the page, if done right, can almost be like dancing – one continual fluid movement that takes you from one place to another. Step by step, word by word, we vicariously experience different worlds, times and places with the turning of each page. This is why those that resonate with us, emotionally, are always our favorite books. We feel connected – and it's the words that are the connecting sinew.
I love words – they are an unending source of wonder for me: homonyms, synonyms, antonyms. Nouns, verbs, gerunds. Adjectives, adverbs, participles – dangling or otherwise. What kind of a world would we live in without words? Pretty quiet, for one thing – but the question was rhetorical…
I'm not the only one who marvels at words. Take a look at what some others have said regarding these versatile intellectual stimuli:
"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by man."
- Rudyard Kipling
"To speak mere words is much like speaking of mere dynamite."
- C.J. Ducasse
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."
- Mark Twain
I'd be remiss if I didn't include the partial lyric, "Words to memorize, words hypnotize, words make my mouth exercise…" Hey, what ever happened to PWEI? Never mind that…
Anyway, I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a writer's group where one of the exercises was prompted by loose dictionary pages – I got an H page. We were supposed to write something inspired by one of the words, but as I looked at my page, my eyes found focus on a picture of a hawk. Here's what I wrote:
I love the dictionary. Not only is it chock full of information, but it is an endless source of amusement, as well. Yes, that's right, amusement. Looking at page 119 of some disemboweled dictionary, it's the picture of a hawk that catches my eye. A hawk, as almost anyone knows, is any of several predatory birds with blah-blah-blah, ya, we all know what hawks are. The thing about this hawk is that it recalled a memory of mine from many years ago.
One time I came across the word grebe, and coming from a more urban than rural background, I was not familiar with this word so, naturally, I went to consult... The Book. A grebe, as it turns out, is a very small dabchick. Hmph! A dabchick – how 'bout that. See, the thing is, I had no idea what a dabchick was – the dictionary is like that, one word often leads to another; honestly, you could spend days within the pages of a dictionary. I went straight to the Ds – d, d, d, dab, dabchick – there it was. A dabchick is a noun; it is one of any variety of small grebes.
So there you have it – the dictionary – a funny, funny book!
It's probably no wonder, with my affinity for words, that one of my favorite books is, in fact, the dictionary – that massive collection of words, those teeny-tiny building blocks, just waiting to be assembled in such a way as to tell the next story, to transport you to the next place, to reveal to you completely new worlds and experiences… don't even try telling me that's not magical.