Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Elephant That Changed My Life

I'm reading a collection of short essays by published authors: The Book That Changed My Life, edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen. I like the concept. It makes me wonder what books have influenced my life. There are many books I've enjoyed, of course. But the one that comes most prominently to mind is called The Elephant's Child, by Rudyard Kipling. Through this book I learned to read. Of course, my parents read it to me. Back in those long-ago days of my pre-school childhood, we had a summer home and this library book stayed with me for most of those warm, idyllic months; I suspect my father had to pay a dollar or two in late fees.

As you might imagine given the name of this blog, elephants are special to me. And this tale of how the elephant's child got his nose stretched out by a crocodile in "the great-green greasy Limpopo River" to become a trunk represents a turning point (albeit an early one) in my intellectual life. It was all due to the elphant's "insatiable curiosity." Such language for a precocious child! I can still hear my father's and my mother's and my brothers' voices as they read it to me. But most important was I needed to read it, because my family wasn't beside me at all hours of the day, and that's when I wanted to read it. Like the crocodile, this book pulled at my brain, stretching it and distorting it until I could hear words differently than I had before, speak them properly, and languish in the language of love and adventure.

Years later, when I was married and my body and mind had been stretched in other, less appealing ways, I received a CD of this book -- narrated by Jack Nicholson with aural accompaniment by Bobby McFerrin. Perfect! How lovingly and mischievously he spoke the words "insatiable curiosity"; he knew such sensations all too well.

This book has helped to form me. If you don't know it already, go to your library and get yourself stretched.