It’s so satisfying when you begin reading a new book and are immediately captivated by the story. It could be due to a character so well drawn that she instantly interests you, or a humourous situation that has you laughing out loud. Sometimes there’s just something about the overall style and intelligence of the writing that appeals to your taste and encourages you to keep reading “just one more chapter” until finally collapsing into bed hours later than would have been prudent. The alarm rings way too soon and you start the morning overtired … and wishing you had time to read another chapter before heading out for the day.
That instant involvement doesn’t happen to me often. Some books take an investment of time and patience to get into, needing several pages or even chapters to set the scene and characters and draw me in. Some never do succeed and are set aside unread. Other books are pleasant reads, enjoyed for the short term but then largely forgotten; I’d have to pick them up six months later and read the back cover to remind myself of the plot.
It is wonderful, then, when a book really captures my heart. And best yet when, years after the initial reading, I can still recall the opening paragraphs that grabbed my interest and held it.
Angela’s Ashes is one of those books. I loved the poignant, Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir from page one. Published back in 1996, the tale of Frank McCourt’s poverty-stricken childhood was brought to mind again by the author’s recent passing, so I looked it up and began rereading.
One person’s idea of an excellent book, or paragraph, or even sentence is not necessarily another’s, but for me, this is a great beginning:
When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood; the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version; the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.
Above all – we were wet.