What’s missing from the plot summary

Published 10:43 am Wednesday, January 18, 2012

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

If you read nothing else, read the big books.

If you’re a student, read a big book and mention some detail outside something that could be found in a plot summary, and you’ve just added a huge bonus to your essay – larger still if the teacher hasn’t read the book and feels shamed. If you’re out of school, tote the big book around to work, to soccer practice, to doctor visits and bask in the glory of everyone “oohing” and “aahing” over it.

(Guys, it’s even better if you select a big chick book because then you don’t even have to start the conversation – the women just come to you. However, the drawback is that you have to talk about the book – which means you have to read some of the book – and then you have to lie and talk about how much you “love” the love that’s expressed in the book.)

We live in an age that has convinced itself it’s too pressed for time to read for length. “I’ve heard about it,” and a one-sentence summary now suffice as an excuse to forgo the unexpected pleasures in a book with tens of thousands of sentences. Teachers – I’m guilty too – have even encouraged the practice of short summaries, neglecting the better question of “What surprised you?” – a question that might get the student to see the book as something more than just another assignment.

For 20-plus years, “Don Quixote” in all of its 1,118 page glory has sat in our school library. I’ve always been drawn to the book, the book that nobody checks out, and so when I had the opportunity over break to download it to my Nook for free, I took the chance. (Sorry school copy – you were just too heavy.)

Like most books, “Don” started well, sagged in the middle (in this case, 800 pages of sagging that perhaps will become outlawed in our state if the next legislative session has its way), but then hit a beautiful moment around page 1,000 when a character began to describe hell as a place where people play tennis with poorly written books.

I laughed through tears imagining the scene. No plot summary ever mentioned the tennis match. That unexpected moment was worth the wait.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.