Summer Read: Tess of the D’Urbervilles or the Oxford Dictionary?

Sometime during 8th grade, we were given a terrible assigment: read books with lots of pages. The person who read the most pages would get extra credit. I needed extra credit to secure straight A’s that semester, so I thought choosing Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a 1200 page tome, was brilliant.

I always had trouble with reading and really hated it until I was 35 and my hormones got sorted. Before that, my natural reading tendancy was Right to Left, Bottom to Top. And backwards. I hid this all my life, learning instead, what the teachers wanted me to say out loud Left to Right, In Order, For Pete’s Sake. And comprehending nothing.

After page 5 of Tess, I knew I was in trouble with words like “forlorn”, “boddice”, and “privilege”.

I plodded on. When will this woman take a pitchfork to those advancing on her! Get a grip!

I was so mad at the main character!

I forced-fed myself more disgusting helpings of this horrid book, re-reading the same paragraph over and over, pulling at My Dripping Right Eye.

At the end of the contest, a girl known for being a bookworm anyway, read 1700 words. Probably from books such as Ramona The Pest.

Why didn’t I think of that?!

Five of my favourite authors have suggested writers read the dictionary.

Really?

Yes.

Actually, it’s easier now than ever. There’s an app for that. The Oxford Dictionary. I can scroll and scroll on my phone in the summer darkness while bugs bite my arm, until I see a new word that looks interesting. I can even build a list of favourites to whip out here and there.

I know that in my next memoir, if I suddenly began sprinkling in sophisticated words beginning with the letter “a”, you all might become suspicious. There’s a fine line between being true to one’s self as an author and trying to replicate Tess.

Please, never do that.

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