Why I Liked One Day

Last week I finished reading One Day by David Nicholls.  My first thought as I put it down?  That was a lovely, lovely book.  I hope they don’t screw up the movie.

One Day was yet another book that I had picked up in the store a number of times and been curious about, but had never actually purchased.  Then one of my students asked me to get it for him last year, so I did.  He told me it was great, so I fully intended to read it.  Then summer hit, and all my stuff got packed up, and then it got moved into my new classroom, and now I have no idea where that book ended up or if it even got returned to the classroom library before school ended.

Then, I got my Nook.  It was an early birthday present from my parents while I was in Austin, and I was trying to decide what book to read on it first.  I wasn’t super excited about any of the free stuff I found (although I love that I now carry the complete works of Jane Austen in my purse without killing my shoulder), so I decided to buy One Day (partly because all the “real” copies being sold now have pictures from the movie on the cover and I have a weird thing about never buying the movie version of a book.  When I wanted to replace my set of Lord of the Rings so I could put the old one in my classroom, I scoured used book stores to find copies that had the original illustrations rather than Viggo Mortensen’s face.  And we all know I love Viggo’s face.)

Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about One Day.  It tells the story of two friends, Dexter and Emma over the course of twenty years by checking in on them on July 15 every year, the anniversary of the day they met.  The characters and the story aren’t necessarily ground-breaking, but the structure makes them seem new and fresh and interesting.

Nicholls use of language doesn’t take my breath away the way Yann Martel or Nicole Krauss does, but the simplicity makes the characters’ internal dialogue seem realistic.  Take this passage, which also nicely illustrates on of the themes of the book, for example:

She began walking again, south towards The Mound. ‘Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that?  What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical.  Better by far to simply try and be good and courageous and bold and to make a difference.  Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you.  Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at…something.  Change lives through art maybe.  Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well.  Experience new things.  Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.

That was her general theory, even if she hadn’t made a very good start of it.

Another idea in the book is the importance of seemingly insignificant days and seasons of life.  We very rarely see defining-moment events on July 15 when we check in with Em and Dex.  Most of the time it’s a typical, run of the mill day where they might be hanging out together or they might not.  Instead, Nicholls brilliantly gives us the aftermath of those important decisions that have been made throughout the rest of the year, or the build-up to the next one.  We get to see that even those things that seem utterly mundane to the characters reveal who they are and who they are becoming just as much, if not more, than a major life event would.

Which is an interesting thing to think about.  What am I doing today that is turning me into the person I’m going to be in 10 or 15 years?  Will future me look back on present me with guilt or regret or disdain or fondness or wistfulness?  What role are the people I spend time with going to play in the long narrative that is my life?  Following the train of thought, quite possibly beyond what Nicholls intended, what role am I going to play in the long narrative of God’s kingdom?

Bottom line, read the book.  Particularly if you think the movie (starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess) looks remotely interesting.  Read the book first; it’s the kind of story that could be enhanced or utterly destroyed by being turned into a film (much like The Time Traveller’s Wife, and we all know how that turned out).

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1 Comment

  1. Gaynelle

     /  July 21, 2011

    I haven’t read the book or seen the movie but I do know July 15th is Uber Important….it’s my birthday!!!

    Reply

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