My friend and I clambered onto the picnic table. The damp wood felt unsteady underneath me; I shifted my feet. Then, flashing my friend a grin, I began to sing: “Pardon me. Are you Aaron Burr, sir?”
“That depends. Who’s asking?”
And so it continued—us standing on the picnic table, singing as loud as we could, and the other campers staring at us with slightly horrified expressions. Hadn’t everyone gotten over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical? No—we would keep the flame burning. I loved Hamilton because it brought the Founding Fathers to life. So when I received a request to review the book behind the musical, an irrational fear clutched me: what if this book put Alexander Hamilton, who had become so real to me, back into a coffin?
“Well, I still think books are better than movies.”
My friend just shook his head at me, smiling. I had never been big on movies—I still am not—and I found that books left you more satisfied than two hours spent staring at a screen. When friends asked me, “Have you watched this?” I would always shake my head.
“You haven’t lived!” they would gasp, and I would laugh. Later, as I would flop onto my bed and immerse myself in my books, I would wonder: How is this, how is being different, not living?
Tipping my head back, I licked the last drops of pink lemonade from my cup. I glanced around the table; my cousins and my siblings were still drinking their lemonade.
“Oof,” one cousin said, glancing at a brimming cup. “I don’t think I can drink this. I’m full.”
We made appropriate sounds of sympathy. Sighing, the cousin dumped the lemonade into the pitcher.
Another cousin squawked. “That’s gross! You’ve dumped in your backwash! I’m not drinking any more lemonade.”
“Aw, come on,” I said airily, “There’s nothing wrong with that lemonade. I’d drink it.” I picked up my glass and stared at it for a moment. Then I grimaced. I wanted more lemonade, but somehow, I couldn’t make myself drink from that pitcher.
For hundreds of years, slavery was accepted as a way of life. To see people beaten for working too slowly, sold to pay off debt, or killed in fits of anger was the ugly but unquestioned norm. Today, with slavery almost gone, it is something to speak of in somber tones and with grim faces. But if slavery is so hard to speak of now, imagine how hard it would be to discuss back when it was at its peak. Who would take up the task and tell of something so awful, so horrifying, and so real?
With a groan, I forced myself to look at the electric clock on my night table. I groaned again. It read 22:46. I should have turned off the light more than an hour ago, I thought guiltily. I nestled back into my blankets, glancing back at the book in my hands. More than anything, I wanted to keep on reading. I wanted to re-immerse myself in Rand al’Thor’s world and stay there all night. But something stopped me. Rand’s struggle was with his control of power—was I going to urge him on, and then fail to control myself?
When I finished reading The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I gazed at it sadly and turned wistfully to the appendix at the back of the book. I quickly forgot my melancholy mood, however, when the appendix turned out to be a treasure trove of Middle-earth-related information. Before long, I grew obsessed with the languages of Middle-earth, particularly the elvish language Sindarin. When I couldn’t find a free Sindarin course, I resorted to sending emails to myself in said language and muttering elvish phrases under my breath. Soon, I was searching for other Tolkien books in a desperate effort to find out more about the elves. Little did I know that I had begun a journey that would take me across ancient Middle-earth.
I looked at the target and frowned. I had always imagined myself shooting effortlessly, looking cool and controlled as I let loose perfectly aimed arrows in rapid succession. At least, I had certainly never envisioned this. I was straining to pull the bowstring, my face red with exertion. My arrows flew high above the target, into the woods beyond me. Stories always made shooting arrows sound so easy! How could anyone ever survive using a bow and arrow alone?
When we all slept in one room, I used to ask my siblings, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
One of my siblings wanted to live in Laos, in a house with screens instead of doors. I said I wanted to write in a great big lonely mansion in the mountains. My youngest sibling said, “I want to be a lawyer.”
This took us all by surprise. “Why?” we asked.
“So I can get rich and live in a penthouse in Manhattan.”
It didn’t seem as far-fetched as it really was. After all, what do lawyers do? Get a case. Win it. Make boatloads of money. Right?