I am working on my third book. Really…I am. It may be the last in the series, or there may be a prequel in store to address the earlier life of my main character. But today I noticed a problem, if you will, as I found myself on Amazon ordering three new books. They are not my books, and I should be writing rather than contemplating reading the works of others. But I cannot escape the desire I have, in fact, the desire I think many of us have from a very young age to be entertained, to learn, to be challenged and inspired; in short, to have someone tell us a story.
When I was very young I loved the times when my mother or father would read to me. One of my favorites was Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Garth Williams. It is a book about the seasons, holidays, and the passage of time. It was comforting somehow, to learn that time has a pattern, a flow, and the illustrations nearly jumped off the page each one was so beautiful. I never tired of the story, my daughter loved it too, and I purchased a copy for my granddaughter several years ago. So not only is it a much loved story but a family tradition of sorts.
As I grew I devoured Nancy Drew mysteries and demonstrated an early love of animals by reading everything in the genre’ I could; Black Beauty, The Incredible Journey, My Friend Flicka, as well as the series of horse books written by Marguerite Henry including Misty of Chicoteague. I read Sounder by William H Armstrong, a story about a coon dog, but even more about a sharecropper’s family and the inhumanity and racism they faced. Every time I opened a book, I was begging someone to “tell me a story” and I was rarely disappointed, learning about other places and lives different than my own all while being entertained.
In high school I continued the animal “theme” reading and rereading James Herriot’s wonderful stories of life as a county vet; seeing every rolling dale in Yorkshire, England and feeling every loss of an animal and triumph of the healed as if they were my own. At the same time I was assigned the read of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It was one of the singularly most horrific stories I have ever read made all the more awful by the knowledge that it was based on the truths of the lives of working men in factories at the turn of the century. But it was compelling, I read every page and learned about man’s inhumanity to man. I still have a copy of it in my library today.
My many years as an adult have produced more amazing reads than I can chronicle but have given me such appreciation for those with the ability to tell a story, capture their readers and make them feel something. Several decades ago I discovered the author Jane Smiley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her A Thousand Acres. Her beautifully written books tell stories that are often gritty, tragic and poignant but I love her writing. It turns out that Ms. Smiley is a rider and a horse-lover and she has written many wonderful books with horses as the theme; Horse Heaven and Barn Blind to name two. I had discovered her as an author long before I met her at a horse show in Pebble Beach, CA. She was kind enough to sign my copies of her books and though they are dog-eared and the pages are yellowed. I am so proud to have them.
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, did something as a writer that at once was so simple and yet so brilliant I would love the opportunity to pick her brain about how she made magic (no pun intended). She wrote a world with the elements that every child and adult can understand; school, the mean teacher, the beloved teacher, the brainy kid, the best friend, the bully, good and evil, etc. and seamlessly incorporated a well-planned and tightly woven fantasy world into it.
Anne Lamott, a resident of nearby Marin County, CA, is funny, open, self-depricating and every time I read one of her books or a shorter piece of hers I find myself nodding my head or saying to the dog, “that’s it exactly!” I look forward to every word that leaves her fingertips.
Finally, Elizabeth Gilbert. She is probably most recognizable as the author of Eat, Pray, Love but it was her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, that gave me the push to begin writing my own tales. Though I had written all my life there was great fear to trying to tell a story of my own. She didn’t make me write, but she spoke to me as a writer to let go of whatever I was afraid of and challenge myself.
My reading tastes are as eclectic as my tastes in music and I’m sure we all have something different that speaks to us, inspires and engages us. I believe we all have the insatiable desire for someone to tell us a story. For some it is the written word, for others maybe on film, but done well these stories make us think, laugh, cry, question, love, hate and immerse ourselves with other people, places and situations whether real or fabricated. Therefore, I refuse to feel guilt with my book purchases today. There will be time to write but also time for others to “tell me a story”.