Friday, May 15, 2009


Sometimes books touch our lives.

Lately, the books I've been reading have touched it in a way that makes me want to write letters to the authors and ask, "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!"

In the midst of my frustration with the drooping quality of young adult and children's fiction I've been immersing myself in lately (maybe it's just bad luck on my part that I haven't been picking out The Best books), I've noticed that a book I thought was a fun read but not particularly life altering has, indeed, made an impact on me.

A while back, I read a book called Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie (as documented here). It was a funny book, and I liked it. It turns out, though, that 9ish months later, it's left a lasting impression. I hope you're not expecting something profound, because, it's not. In fact, it's slightly embarrassing.

The protagonist's younger brother has this cute/annoying/amusing habit of calling oatmeal "moatmeal." If there's an explanation for that in the book, I don't remember it. What I do remember is that I think "moatmeal" is a funny word and that I was amused by it as I read the book.

Happily (or should it be sadly or pathetically?) it's become part of my lexicon. Mostly because it still amuses me (see, I told you this was slightly embarassing). I know it doesn't amuse anyone else (in fact, most people probably don't notice the slight mispronunciation) which is fine because I don't intend for it to be funny to them.

This leads me to a more general idea: what happens when you read books? You learn stuff that other people don't know. (not necessarily important or useful stuff. Moatmeal being a prime expample). But then what happens when a situation in real life calls up memories of a situation from a book? You're left to enjoy the connection alone (unless someone else has read the book, but unless you already know that, it's usually not worth the time to ask around and find out).

This places you in an awkward position--especially if the reference to the book is a funny one and you laugh out loud.

Now everyone is staring at you, wanting to know what's funny. But how do you explain a whole book to them so they understand the context of the funny thing? If you make the attempt, by the time you finish, there's that lame silence that always happens after someone explains a joke. It's just not funny anymore.

This problem occured a few times when I was in high school. So, I came up with a solution. When I started laughing and my friends looked to me to tell them why, I'd just say, "Inside joke with myself." It explains things perfectly. And after a few odd glances and a comment along the lines of "WHA?" the conversation returns to normal. This leaves you relatively free to enjoy the joke while not having to launch into detailed explanations.

Although, I still would rather have someone to share the moment with. It's so much more rewarding that way.

Take The True Meaning of Smekday (I desperately wanted to write it "The Troo Meaning of Smekday" which is itself a reference to one of my favorite lines in that book and to Moo's post here).

Moo read it, then got me to read it, and at least one of our brothers has read it and The Rock has read it--and it's so much fun to make reference to it when we're together. It's sort of like quoting The Princess Bride in a room full of BYU students. Everyone knows what you're talking about and they're sure to enjoy the reference (but beware, because once you've started quoting from that movie in that setting, you're not going to hear the end of it for a while).

And that's just the problem with Inside Jokes With Yourself: they're not really all that fun. Maybe the first time it happens, but then it just starts to smack of lonlienss (and bookwormishness). And I know it's no fun to be on the other side of it either.

That point was driven home to me just a few weeks ago. For a while, I've noticed The Rock will occassionally say, "Tut, tut, looks like rain." I thought he was a little crazy, but, hey, I say "moatmeal" and he doesn't even flinch.

Then, we were hiking with our friend Richard, and in the middle of the hike, and totally incongruous to our conversation he butts in with "Tut, tut, looks like rain." Months of pent up thoughts that The Rock was slightly off his rocker all came into focus and directed themselves at Richard. "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!" (It came out more forcefully than I meant it to).

Richard said, "That woman has an umbrella."

Sure enough, a woman coming down the trail toward us had an umbrella in hand.

"But it doesn't look like rain," I said in exasperation. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Turns out, that's the point exactly.

Richard explained that the quote comes from a Winnie the Pooh cartoon--in which Pooh wants to get at some honey that can't be reached, so he and Christopher Robin decide that if the bees think it's going to rain, they'll relinquish the honey. (disclaimer: I don't know how accurately I'm recounting the explanation, you'll have to double check with Richard). So Christopher Robin carries an umbrella and says, "Tut, tut, looks like rain," even though it really DOESN'T look like rain.

I'm glad Richard didn't just say, "It's an inside joke with myself" and leave me clueless and fuming.

So, the conclusion I'm rapidly approaching is that you should read Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie so we can quote and joke about it instead of me just having Inside Jokes With Myself.

But, I'm not sure that's a practical conclusion, so instead, maybe you could tell me if there are any moatmeal type references that you've been keeping to yourself. Or maybe you'll decide that it's too much trouble and be content to keep the Inside Joke with Yourself to yourself. --Lu


Emilee said...

I know exactly what you mean!!! I have too many inside jokes with myself that come from past situations that only one or two people are aware of and from movies I used to watch as a kid or from books. And that awkward situation where I laugh at something and then try to explain why I am laughing thinking, "Oh, they'll think it is funny if I just explain it." but then they still don't think it's funny and that's when I turn red and look down at the ground.
Thanks for the laughs!

Amanda said...

I usually just say, "this reminds me of something in a book," and people usually leave it at that. Also, Pooh decides to roll around in mud until he looks like a rain cloud and then Christopher Robin ties a balloon around his middle so he can float around and the bees won't mind him because he's just a rain cloud. That's how they get the honey. I know this because the accompanying song is on one of Lillian's Disney Sing-a-long Song VHS tapes, but the end starts skipping (maybe because I got it from my sister, who got it from a thrift store) so I'm not sure how the story turns out.

Bridget said...

I totally identify with this post.

Have you read Enthusiasm?

Lu&Moo said...

Um. Amanda. Quit blaming your Pooh addiction on Lillian. I think I need to borrow that tape because I'm so so so clueless about Pooh's adventures and it seems that everyone else isn't. Call me culturally illiterate.

Lu&Moo said...

And, yes, Bridget, I have read Enthusiasm (at your recommendation...and now I've started recommending it to other people. Look what you started.)

Carrie Nation said...

So I once assumed that other musicologists were also literary people like me. Which led to a reference to Room with a View after a recital in which I had just played a Beethoven sonata. My colleagues and advisor were commenting on my performance, and I said, "And I don't even feel peevish afterward."

Raised eyebrows and funny looks. My advisor says something along the lines of, "Are you usually peevish?"

"Uh, you know, Lucy Honeychurch in Room with a View?" And then I discovered to my dismay that though they had heard of Room with a View and may or may not have seen the movie, they didn't know what I was talking about.

Oh well. I didn't know my audience as well as I thought I did. That's the key, really. Knowing your audience. You, Moo, Sar, my folks, they would have gotten the reference. It was a bit embarrassing.

jendoop said...

Should I read Enthusiasm? No, I just can't get excited about it ;) Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Your whole post made me want to say that this is why going to bookgroups is a good thing. Because then you have at least one setting where some people will know some of your weird references. If some of those bookgroup people turn into friends and you socialize outside of the book discussion so much the better.

I read something serious in a book today and I wanted to talk to someone about it. But no one else read it, so no discussion. I guess that's what a blog is for.

Lu&Moo said...

Carrie: my friend Violasaint says: Aw, sad story! And my friend K and I totally would have gotten the joke. We probably would have laughed heartily and then started stabbing ourselves with imaginary forks, saying "HERE is where the birds sing! HERE is where the sky is blue!" And then we probably would have run away because we would have been making a spectacle of ourselves.