What Every Book Ever Has Done To Me

    Our knees touched sitting under the ceiling paintings of Pennsbury’s East library while I furtively gawked at him hoping that he would think it was only the look of a friend. What does this mean? Simply: the only time I have had questionable contact with the human male species in my life. Although, more acutely this event--our knee touch, in my favorite place with my favorite person, on what I now consider my favorite day--signified a message from God that Ahaj Shroff and I were meant to be together. Why? That’s because months earlier seated at the same table Ahaj, a tall, dark and handsome Indian boy with great teeth and an even better smell, recommended Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins to me. A book which I quickly read, taking with it the connotations a girl book nerd gets from a boy book nerd who recommends a Young Adult romance novel to her.
    A standard boy meets girl story placed in France following rich boarding school kids, Anna and Étienne, the novel couldn’t be more different from our real lives. When in the cover of a dark movie theatre they both “accidentally” touch knees I made real world connections to my subsequent experience. Meaning that with the touch of our knees I accepted our affection for one another and immediately looked to God for a way to express mine in more concrete ways. An answer to that came a year later when I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice the summer before 12th grade.
    Lying in my bed on those gloriously hot days while reading Pride and Prejudice, I imagined writing a letter to him. A letter filled with my ardent love and admiration but, because I didn’t know what “ardent” meant exactly, I looked it up in a dictionary and thesaurus trying to make sure that this was the right word for us. It sounded so formal that I wondered if using it would deter him from my actual meaning but it was stronger than “passionate”--a word which I felt my feelings definitely exceeded. However upon research into that word I wondered if it too was now inefficient to describe feelings more intent towards perfervid. Every time I talked to him I felt the burning desire to hear more. Thoughts of him consumed my home and school lives equally as I found myself connecting him to the visions of my top college pick, Chicago University. This connection, although grounded in his general interest for the school, rested on my hope that we would both be going there in the fall to become unparalleled in our academic studies and love for one another. A delusion that came out of our presence at the same University of Chicago Information session had sent me home with a renewed fervor to find that perfect word: I looked up the connotations of “perfervid” that night. Afterward, I was determined to excessively express my— zealous, fervent and enamoring love of him in a very perfervid way. Yet, fear held me back until the night of prom.
    Sold by all forms of media as the most magical night of one’s life, prom held the right mix of magic in reality to push me into action. So that night, armed with all of my supreme knowledge of diction and excitement, I wrote -- "Ahaj Shroff sometimes I mistake your last name for Darcy”. On a sheet that held his name, on a wall containing those of our class this was my declaration of love. Furthermore, it was not the fact that he had a date that night but his unresponsiveness to this that told me I had misjudged his feelings. Disappointed after receiving no response, to what I consider the highest honor, I decided to move on. Although, that part was the hardest concept to understand as I did not know what the next period of my life looked like. So I went back to my books looking for the joy of understanding they had given me before, but what I had noticed was something different.
    A concept which I understood as sameness, intertextuality did not give me comfort when first introduced in my twelfth grade English class yet, that is what I saw in the pages I revisited. A similarity to my failures, successes, hopes and dreams: these books communicated the shared themes of our human existence that encompassed intertextuality. A force that had always been in my life this idea is responsible for my ability to knit which I had learned after reading Nancy Queen’s Chicks with Sticks in 10th grade. Similarly, my love for ballet, belief that love is simple, endurance of four years in French, and the wish to run away to some abandoned church in Oklahoma, have all found their origins in the worlds between texts. A realization that fueled my desire to become a part of the literary world, I immediately started writing.
    Finding its start in imitations my writing process, explored the depths of Jane Austen’s long sentences to write my first narrative, Why I Love Holden Caulfield. Critiqued as very wordy by my Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Z, I changed tactics by looking to master the art of clear and simple prose. However, it proved difficult to find an enjoyable book written in this style until I read Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation. With her influence I saw the beauty of simpler sentences and went on to write a story riddled with fragments. At an impasse, I looked to the concept of intertextuality for guidance which, allowed me to understand that I could use elements of both styles to create something uniquely personal. This strategy allowed me to write my best work yet, a historical fiction short story called Black Wall Street Bombing and although I felt happy about my success I was eager to move on.
    I had plans to write a story for the people like me, book nerds who had misunderstood the dating game but came out better for it, called What Every Book has Ever Done to Me. Yet, for all my excitement and previous study into diction I could not write a single word. For a piece I knew would be one of the most important in my career there was a hollowness to it because I had no idea where the characters would end up. Although, I wanted the main character, a fictitious version of me to be okay, I was not so sure. There was no real closure in my own misfortunate events and I was confused as to what that would look like for them until reading Pointe by Brandy Colbert. After a series of events brought back her best friend and her old boyfriend— his kidnapper: Theo the main character is pushed to her limits. Although, it is her break up from current boyfriend Hosea that lands her back into rehab for her anorexia; where she learns that he may have loved her but not enough. This lesson allowed me to understand my relationship with Ahaj while creating one for the characters that lived in my world. However what it did for me the most was create a better focus of my dreams. Not only was writing about joining the world of intertextuality with my great uses of diction but also helping people. Guiding them on their journeys to find the context of their lives like Brandy Colbert and the other authors have helped me: a process I start now for the people who need to understand the forces driving their life so they can control them.

Leslie Austin is a first-year at Arcadia University who dreams of Mr. Darcy, having brunch with Bobby Flay and writing the next American classic.