Alone in the Classroom…and the Love of Words

The above quote is spoken by the narrator of Alone in the Classroom as she pieces together fragments of her ancestry in search of self-acceptance. Although this novel has arguable flaws in plot and structure, this quote gives us a taste of Hay’s distinctive style, evocative descriptions and provocative messaging. From the woody smells of childhood to the villainous school principal who “moved through the school like mustard gas,” Hay’s artful prose invigorated every fiber of my being. I was reminded once again about my on-going love affair with words, and their intoxicating magic.

According to researchers at Washington State University, a single word has the power to “inform, persuade, hurt, ease pain…get your point across, or destroy any hope of your ideas ever being understood.” In the fatal example of the Japanese use of the word “mokusatsu” at the end of WWll, one word can trigger unspeakable horrors. (Read more.)

Multiple researchers have supported the claim that reading great literature improves us as human beings. Studies, both with adults and with children, have indicated that “individuals who frequently read fiction are better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.” As an interesting aside, no similar effect was noted when participants watched television. (You can read more here.)

As Hay continued to lure me with her skillful prose, BAM! I was transported back to the long, hot, restless summers of my own childhood.

“Newspapers of old smelled damp, inky, pungent. We would lie on the floor when we were kids, our noses inches above the paper, and devour the comic strips that were so glamorous in those days, the women and the men bewitching, all chiselled cheekbones and thick hair, full lips and swelling breasts. The damp wonder of romance, and the excitement of the world out there awaiting us – it was all transmitted directly into our noses through newsprint and ink.”

and

“Roads were narrower…more shaded. Cars less common and slower. Summer feet were bare and tough, or shod in old leather. Faces were careless of the sun. Noses burned, and children aided the peeling by picking the skin loose and giving it a fascinated tug. As many peelings per summer as there were pips in a winter grapefruit.”

What about you? What is your relationship with words? Is there a recent, or favorite passage, that has transported you in time? Please share!

And while we’re sharing a love of words, a new children’s book in the Piper Morgan series is being released on April 4. This series is written by Tennessee author and blogger, Stephanie Faris. You can check out more details here. This is a non-sponsored recommendation.

Featured image created by Canva.
Feature quote from Alone in the Classroom, Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Hay. Publisher: Emblem Editions.

23 Replies to “Alone in the Classroom…and the Love of Words”

  1. I believe in the power of words. (Maybe that is why these days, I’m so upset at some of the words we hear… another topic for sure!) Your book-reports are making me think I should be reading more interesting books… and not just the (trashy) romance novels I love!

    1. Absolutely nothing wrong with trashy romance (IMHO). Thanks for following along with my book reviews. Since books are a big part of my retirement, I have been testing out reviews on this site.

  2. That sounds like just the author I love to read! I always enjoy a good story, but if the language the author uses doesn’t transport me or doesn’t make me want to savor his/her words, I’m often left unsatisfied. I’m going to look for this one for sure! I don’t know if I’ve recommended this one to you, but The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver might be one you’d like. Her writing is luscious.

    1. Thanks, Janis – I will add The Lacuna to my list. As for Elizabeth Hay, ‘Late Night on Air’ is her critically acclaimed novel (with less reviews mentioning plot/structure concerns) so my recommendation would be to start with that one!

  3. I believe in the power of words as well and wish I was better at creating them. I guess I can use my lack of English when growing up as a good excuse. That part does bug me when I write, though, since I feel like I can’t go “deep” enough with the vocabulary I have. As I child and young adult I read much more than now and I hope to find more time for this hobby as I truly believe that reading makes you wiser. I like Barbara Kingsolver as well, but was not too fond of Floght Behavior, which I read recently.

    1. You are a brilliant writer, Liesbet! I have total respect (and a wee bit of jealousy) for people who are both fluent and dexterous in more than one language!

  4. Mom “made” us read library books all summer long and took a huge box of them when we went camping in Yosemite for two weeks each summer. I also read comic books (loved Superman and the Archies). I read mostly sci-fi, crime thrillers and lately bios. Now that I am associated with so many bloggers who self-publish so I’m reading a more diverse set of books including memoirs and how-tos. Your way with words is also quite impeccable, Donna!

  5. I don’t think it would be much of a surprise to discover most bloggers have a love of books and reading in general.
    I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. Weekly treks to the library on Saturday afternoons as a child are still strong memories.

    It is through books that I developed a fascination with the world and a desire to travel.

    I agree completely with the line “individuals who frequently read fiction are better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective”. I think fiction provides a vehicle for examining complex emotions and events.
    … but then again, of course I would think that. Fiction is my favourite go-to 😉

    There is something for everyone and there is no excuse for not reading – whether it’s DIY How-To, Fiction, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Biographies, … even reading comic books are better than a constant diet of TV and videos. It makes me sad to hear that someone doesn’t like reading.

    1. Hi, Joanne – I agree with you on all counts above. It is sad for me when I hear people ask “who reads novels anymore?”
      In my experience (being a teacher, blogger and…belonging to two book clubs), many people do!

  6. There is simply nothing better than coming across a wonderful sentence or scene in a book. I love that moment when I pause to admire the sheer majesty of a phrase, the aptness of a description. I have a shelf full of such books so I grabbed one, opened it at random and came across this perfect little description of what I sometimes used to feel as a teenager in that time between awake and asleep:

    Kat lies there in the dark on her back with her eyes open, listening to the distant rumble of Ben’s snores coming from the room next door. She feels the mattress holding her body, the quilt like a warm cocoon around her; but after a while the pitch black becomes strangely disorienting, and she begins to feel that she is no longer lying on a solid floor, but rather floating–a tiny particle drifting through space. (The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell)

  7. Hi, Karen:
    That’s such a great passage! I have now added ‘The Shadow Years’ to my reading list!
    It’s amazing what great literature can do for us…even years later. When I first read your sentence saying that a certain passage made you feel as you did when you were a teenager, I immediately thought of Stephen Leacock’s “Sorrows of a Super Soul”. I read this short story when I was seventeen, and although Leacock’s words are dripping in satire, this piece spoke to me on many levels…and I vividly remember that passage to this day.

    “Do you ever look at your face in the glass?
    I do!
    Sometimes I stand for hours and peer at my face and wonder at it. At times I turn it upside down and gaze intently at it. I try to think what it means. It seems to look back at me with its great brown eyes as if it knew me and wanted to speak to me.
    Why was I born?
    I do not know.
    I ask my face a thousand times a day and find no answer.
    At times when people pass my room…and see me taking to my face, they think that I am foolish.
    But I am not.
    At times I cast myself on the sofa and bury my head in the cushions. Even then I cannot find out why I was born.
    I am seventeen.
    Shall I every be seventy-seven?”

      1. Hi, Karen – I’ve always loved that Leacock passage – and have viewed it differently at different times. That short story is from Leacock’s Nonsense Novels. Glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I just stopped by your site as well. Your post about ‘peace shawls’ was very inspiring and moving.

  8. I am a big fan of Elizabeth Hay, and have read many of her books, most recently “His Whole Life.” I agree with you about the delicious attraction of words, and even more than words, of language, and even more than language, of people’s stories. Is there anything more fascinating than stories?

    To take up your challenge, here are the opening lines of a book that I just finished reading:

    They came in the morning, early, walking with the others along tracks and lanes and roads, across fields, down the long low hills which led to the slow pull of the river, down to the open gateways in the city walls, the hours and days of walking showing in the slow shift of their bodies, their breath steaming above them in the cold morning air as the night fell away at their backs. They came quietly, the swish of dew-wet grasses brushing against their ankles, the pat and splash of the muddy ground beneath their feet, the coughs and murmurs of rising conversation as the same few phrases were passed back along the lines. Here we are now. Nearly there. Just to the bottom of the hill and then we’ll sit down.

    This passage is from the prologue to “So Many Ways To Begin” by Jon McGregor.

    Jude

    1. What a breathtaking passage! This is another must-add book for my list. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this.

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