I just spent half an hour trying to find a better word than magic to describe the…?…of Beverly Cleary. The truth is, no such word exists, because what Ms. Cleary is able to do is beyond magic. Her writing is so beautiful, so charming, so alluring, that no word can clearly describe it.
Pshht. Look at all those words. Charm. Allure. Beauty. So mundane, so clearly meant for some other noun.
I remember being in love with her books as a child, but I didn’t realize how much I’d underestimated them. And believe me, if you’ve ever heard me talk about Ramona and how much I love her, you wouldn’t understand that previous sentence.
I just reread the only Ramona book I own. Ramona Quimby, Age 8. It’s…spectacular. For the first time in many, many years I truly forgot about myself. It’s 2:45 AM right now, and as I looked up from the last page fifteen minutes ago, I had to literally get my bearings. I looked at my filled to bursting bookshelf, at my beautiful dark green walls, at the floor in front of it, and I had to make an effort to remind myself of who I am.
Let me tell you, I read a lot. So much, that I not only have no room left on my bookshelf, which covers the entire wall, but I have no room left in my entire room, and I’m constantly trying to ‘re-arrange’ things, which of course doesn’t work since it’s not neatness my room needs but more space.
Practically all my money (I wish I could say it was extra money!) goes toward buying books, and I’m always, always, always on the lookout for books I can get lost in. Sadly, this happens not as often as I would like, but I keep trying anyway because there’s no reward greater than a great book that you can truly lose yourself in.
I’ve found a decent amount along the way, but only after re-reading the absolute greatness of Ms. Cleary have I understood that I’ve never really succeeded since that time in elementary school.
I remember losing myself in books over the past years. I remember losing myself in books in high school, during college, and now. I remember it very well. I can even point to my bookshelf right now and pick out which ones have given me that gift. But, boy, after reading Ms. Cleary’s book, I know my memory really failed me on this one.
How could I not remember clearly the joy that Ramona brought to me? How could I not conjure up the images, the delightful, delightful images that Ms. Cleary so skillfully drew up?
There was a moment in the middle of this book where I laughed out loud. This wasn’t your average laugh-out-loud-in-the-middle-of-a-novel kind of laugh, this was a genuine, happy laugh, created of sheer delight. I startled myself when this happened. Usually, when you’re in the middle of a book, there’s a thought process that takes place in order for your brain to understand that what you are reading is comedy and that the normal response is laughter or a smile of some sort. This, however, was the most delighted, the most effortless, the most thoughtless laugh ever. I startled myself not just because I scared myself with a sudden loud noise in the midst of the silence of night, but because there was such delight in that laugh.
I stopped to think after this laugh because I couldn’t remember ever having had this experience before. When was the last time I had read a book with such absorption that it took the sound of my own laughter (which I didn’t realize was coming!) to bring me out of my literary world and back into mine?
This is why magic is a word that is almost degrading to use in describing Ms. Cleary. She is other-worldly, in more than one way, and a treasure. She is something that cannot be described accurately, and she is an absolute jewel that I hope to have the honor of meeting one day.
I sat there, after I was done with the book, and smelled it. One of my favorite smells is that of old books; they have a very sweet smell to them, a smell that describes that enchantment that books can hold like no other sensory effect can. I remember buying this particular copy of Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I bought it at a half price books, and I remember the mental conversation I had with myself as I bought it. I’ve loved Ms. Cleary’s books so much that I would really like to own copies of all of them, both for myself and my future children insha’Allah. But the dilemma I faced was this: I didn’t want to buy used copies of these books, because I didn’t want my children to be turned off by how old they were and move on to newer and shinier things.
But here’s what I realize now: As the saying goes, “The true sign of a great book is it’s timelessness.” I knew that, and I knew that Ms. Cleary’s books are very much timeless, but, again, my memory failed me on just how truly timeless they are. There is no one in the world that can pick up a book by Ms. Cleary and fail to be instantly drawn in, no matter what age they live in. I don’t care if jet packs and time travel are the ways of the future, a book by Ms. Cleary will forever hold its place in the hearts of kids everywhere.
I want to thank you, Ms. Cleary. But just like magic is too simple and cliched a word to be used to describe your books and your writing, ‘thank you’ is also too simple to express to you how much your books have meant to me, as I was growing up and now.