Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Whenever I read a book, I indulge in a quirky habit: I read the first sentence, immediately flip to the back, and read the last sentence. While book purists may scold me for 'ruining' the ending of a novel, I have to say that there have been few books whose last sentences have given away the story. I think of this habit as a sort of 'insurance policy': should I kick the bucket before I can finish the novel, at least I can dream up my own plot line in the interim.

Reading the first and last sentences of a book allows me, as well, to 'fill in the gap' as I go, to try and understand better how the twists and turns in the plot will get me from point A to point B, to possibly conceive how an author imagined the world into which I plunge.

Ending a novel never the less makes me sad, because it is a seemingly final rencontre with my first understanding of a work. No matter how many times I may re-read a book, it can never amount to, or surpass, my initial reading.

Somehow this sentiment of finality, this sweet sorrow for the ending of all I adore, transfers to my own writing. I've mentioned previously that I've been writing Friend while he goes through Ranger School; I'm more than thrilled to report he's a mere week from finishing should all go well. Nonetheless, on Monday at work during my lunch break, I wrote him a letter, but as soon as I finished it, another sprung into my mind.

When first lines jump into my mind, I find it hard to ignore them. I solve this by either running with them and capturing them on paper, or writing in my head and letting these lines sink into the abandoned recesses of the fugitive and ephemeral. I ran with this particular line, and wrote what will be Friend's last letter at Ranger.

While I am happy to see these letters come to an end--because they mean Ranger is coming to an end for him--as soon as I finished this letter, I felt inexplicably sad. The only means I have of explaining my sadness is that this ending means I'll no longer have a reason to write him. My sadness also means I care, which is only normal for a twelve year friendship; but what my sadness at this ending says to me most of all is that--fault of human faults--I am attached to the here and now, that I want to hold on to this moment before the clock hands turn and tick it away,
before I have to remember that nothing is eternal but an endless suite of endings.

The sentiment holds true as I watch the clock tick down these final few months in France, before my time--at least as I know--for now comes to an end, when this portion of my life--my story--comes to an end.

Perhaps then my reading of a book's first and last line is my way of prolonging the inevitable, of stopping the story half-way at dawn as did Scheherazade. But no queen shall I be, no...nothing more than a watcher of clocks, a writer of words, and a greeter of endings.

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