Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bugs and Insects

When I was little my brother gave me a book that changed my life. It was a skinny book about bugs and insects. It didn't inspire me to become an entomologist. It didn't help me pass science tests. It didn't even help me recognize the bugs and insects in my backyard. I can't remember the author, the title, or figure out which of my cupboards it's hiding in. But I'll always remember the opening line:
All insects are bugs, but not all bugs are insects.
I'd never seen a sentence like that before. The author could've spent a paragraph ranting about how bugs and insects were NOT the same but they DO share some qualities and WHY can't the world get it right. But he didn't. He summed it up so nicely.
This sentence has helped me understand the world. When people tell me, "All members of (extremist group) are (political party) but not all (political party) are (extremist group)," I think back to that sentence. Bugs, party. Extremists, insects. Got it. And when people turn this into a multi paragraph rant I boil it down to the same.
A few years later I read The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine. It's a retelling of The Princess and the Pea. The king and queen devise a series of tests to spot a real princess. As everyone knows, princesses are delicate. So they have the girls lie on a stack of mattresses with a pea hidden underneath. And of course, princesses like flowers, so they hand them a bouquet containing exactly one weed and see if they can spot it. Naturally, princesses are perfectly proportioned, so they're all measured. One poor girl is disqualified because her waist is a fraction of an inch to wide. The queen tells her they "have to draw the line somewhere."
I'd never heard this sentence before. It described something I'd thought about a lot. When is hair long or short? When is a shade of purple blue or red? When is a group of friends a party instead of a get together? And what do you call that point where everything changes?
Levine certainly didn't invent this sentence, I just hadn't heard it yet. She probably didn't know it would be unfamiliar to an eight year old. Neither did the bug and insect guy. I'm glad they didn't or they might not have written what they did. "Draw the line" and "not all x are y" are such important concepts to understand.
When people talk about the books that changed their lives it's always some great important classical novel. And those work their magic too. But sometimes it's not a story that packs the power. It's not a theme that changes the way you view the world. Those are just the ones we remember. Simple sentences-and there so many more I'm not even consciously aware of-alter how we think.
What sentence changed your life?

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