My aunt and uncle are the most loyal readers and supporters of my blog. They engage me in conversation on what I wrote and often take my book recommendations. My uncle always “likes” my blog on Facebook, and they both treat my philosophical meanderings seriously.
I love talking about books, and so I adore it when my aunt and uncle read the books I recommend. I had discussions with them on Fifty Shades of Grey on one side of the literary spectrum and Percy Jackson on the other, and I’m still looking forward to hearing what they think about Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. Last week, they told me they had been reading Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars.
“I want to talk to you about this book,” my aunt said. “I can’t believe you think it’s the best book you’ve read. I’m enjoying it, but I want to know what makes you say that.” A few days later, my uncle, having finished the book, said: “It’s a good book, but it’s not the best book I’ve ever read.”
The Wednesday Wars is, at the very least, a great book. The novel won the 2008 Newbery Honor medal, after all. It got 4.5 stars on Amazon and 4.1 on Goodreads, a fabulous review on the New York Times and starred reviews on both Kirkus and Booklist. And what’s more: my kids loved it, so much so that my daughter and I are now listening to it again, and the three of us together are on our third Gary Schmidt novel.
But of course that is not what my aunt and uncle meant. They wanted to know what in the novel resonated so strongly with me that I made my “best book” claim because the novel did not resonate with them the same. And yet, I cannot quite put my finger on an explanation. All I know is I cried and laughed, often at the same time. I felt my heart beating in time with Holling. I rooted for him, cared for him, wished him well. And not only him, but all the characters in the novel, from Mrs. Bigio in the kitchen mourning her dead husband and baking cream puffs to Holling’s sister running away from home.
A book is a vessel, a channel to express our feelings, thoughts, and needs. The details in it act like the fibers of a sponge, allowing space in which to unload whatever it is we have been carrying and maybe gain new insights. I am reading The Wednesday Wars again, looking for what it is, precisely, that so caught my heart. What made me care so much, as though these characters were my friends, my family? What is it I identified with so strongly? If I find, I will let you know. But I think, perhaps, it is the mystery of the letters on the page, the combination of them into words, the energy that hides in them that creates this literary relativity and makes one of us fall hopelessly in love while others don’t make any fuss at all.
Here’s the link to the NYT article about the book.