A young girl lay in a dormitory bed, an odd combination of simultaneously stretched and coiled limbs beneath a single sheet and a homemade fleece blanket. A small electric fan blew at the center of this gently breathing mass from its perch on a chair dragged nearly to the edge of the bed.
Outside, dark billowing clouds, heavy with rain and giving off an aura of trouble, gathered around the tops of academic buildings, as if waiting for their cue to strike. The air zipped with electric energy, and the indescribably delicious smell that only comes before a good soaking rain drifted to the ground, into windows opened to ward off the stifling summer heat, and permeated the silent and soon-to-be-forgotten dreams of many piles of blankets steadily rising and falling with unconscious life.
Without warning, a single drop of water fell from an impatient cloud, riding a powerful gust of air through a window to land smack onto the young girl’s nose. As if it were a sudden bursting snore from her nasally-impaired father, she brushed at her face even as she rolled onto her other side and pulled her coverings tighter around her, oblivious to the chaos-toting Pandora’s Box that she had unlocked along with her windows earlier that night.
Another few drops fell, each blown by the forceful wind into the side of a building, like particularly stupid birds into a really clean window. The storm began this way, hesitantly, building up its courage and confidence in preparation for the real thing.
As a drizzling level of rainfall was reached, a flash of lightning zigzagged its way from the clouds to the ground and back, like a cautious swimmer would use their toe to test the water temperature. A few short seconds later, a resounding crack of thunder split open the sky, and let loose torrents of cold, unrelenting rain, which the wind directed right at the young girl’s window.
"For me, such words demonstrated the autonomy of stories. In stories, words you never heard spoken nonetheless existed. They had another kind of existence. They acted---upon objects likewise made of words" (Spufford 76).
This phrase really stuck out for me while reading more of this memoir. Spufford's narration jumps between being a kid who has just begun reading, and the man he is today whose life revolves around books. In some cases, though, like this one, the line between the two is quite fuzzy. In stories, everyone is a kid again, no matter what book is being read. New vocabulary is discovered, sometimes made-up vocabulary, but either way one's view of the world is expanded a bit more with every book read. Not only do words never before spoken have "another kind of existence," but they also draw the reader into this alternate state of being. The reader experiences the action of these unknown words in a breakthrough unparallel by anything else, especially by anything of a non-literary nature.
Spufford, Francis. The Child That Books Built. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002.