Football Weather – A Separate Peace

A Separate PeaceA Separate Peace by John Knowles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s something about this time of year that has me thinking, that gets me looking out at the crisp blue sky, inspiring me to write. I remember the first time I heard of early September described simply as “football weather” – the time of year when the leaves are just starting to crunch under our feet, when it’s cold enough to need a sweater and maybe even a scarf, but still warm enough to tailgate and cheer. I recall this so clearly because it was around when I heard that phrase that I first fell in love with a certain kind of writing.

I can tell you exactly where I was when I read the following passage from A Separate Peace. It was my tenth grade English class, in my seat in the first row all the way in the back against the windows. I particularly loved that seat, because it meant I got to watch my crush play handball in the courts on the quad. But when I read this I forgot he was out there, and suddenly a light turned on in me.

As I had to do whenever I glimpsed this river, I thought of Phineas. Not of the tree and pain, but of one of his favorite tricks, Phineas in exaltation, balancing on one foot on the prow of a canoe like a river god, his raised arms invoking the air to support him, face transfigured, body a complex set of balances and compensations, each muscle aligned in perfection with all the others to maintain this supreme fantasy of achievement, his skin glowing from immersions, his whole body hanging between river and sky as though he had transcended gravity and might by gently pushing upward with his foot glide a little way higher and remain suspended in space, encompassing all the glory of summer and offering it to the sky.

Now, it is true that this is a massive run on sentence, and would probably have gotten edited to hell by the very English teacher who assigned the book, but at fourteen years old I thought this was IT. This was the way I wanted to write. I could *see* Finny, just as clearly as if he were there in front of me, and it changed everything. I felt elevated, enlightened, walking to my next class as if on a cloud, and all from a paragraph of well-placed words.

That is what good writing can do. It can change the way you see things. It can filter the world a little differently, the same way the proverbial “football weather” can change the way we look at our surroundings. It makes things a little bit crisper, a little bit clearer, and maybe makes life a little bit happier.(That being said, I really hated it that Finny dies.)

This book will remain one of my favorites, and I will continue to flip open to that passage every first cool day of fall.

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