Shakespeare, William

S

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

My father adored all things Shakespeare.  When I was growing up, he quoted long passages from Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Hamlet.

It was the rise and fall of the language, the fluidity with which my father reeled off lines like:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

Or this:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.  It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.  It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.

Or this:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

I first picked up Julius Caesar when I was about seven, but I struggled with the symbolism, with the history of it.  Dad, bless his heart, suggested I try something a little more straightforward.  Like Romeo and Juliet.  I did, and he was right; it was easier for me to get my head around Romeo and Juliet, although I thought both of them were idiots.  It may have taken me another year to tackle Julius Caesar, but I managed it.

I bought my first collection of the Bard when I was ten, a volume I still have. It was partly a gift from Mrs. Brand, and each time I look at it, I am reminded of her and of her place in my life.  Recently, I saw a play titled The Book of Will, which tells the story of how the first folio of Shakespeare’s collected works came into existence.  When I think of how close the world came to losing his manuscripts forever, I am again reminded how fragile our words, our stories really are.  We need to share them both, so the tapestry of our lives and our stories continue to enrich the lives of the people around us, particularly the people we love.

Advertisements

Rowling, JK

R

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

This is going to be short sweet and to the point.

I was a late fan to the adventures of the Boy Who Lived, and his friends, for reasons I do not understand.  I couldn’t get past the first three pages the first time I tried to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (personally, I like the UK title better, but I’m weird that way). When I came back to it later, though, I was hooked.

I was amazed not only how sophisticated her plot was, extended through seven novels, but how many complex subjects she wrote about.  And her target audience was children?  Amazing.  But then I always did think adult vastly underestimate the capacity of a child’s mind to grasp difficult concepts.

So why do I include JK Rowling on my list?  Because she reminded me of the sense of wonder, whimsy, mystery, and flat out joy that brought me to reading in the first place.  And, because her work embodies one of my favourite quotes from Madeleine L’Engle:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written.  And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

 

Quiet

Q

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

This should in no way be mistaken for the brilliant Shusako Endo novel, Silence.  No, this is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, and it is another book, the most recent, that has molded who I am as a reader and as a writer.

This is an introvert liberation manifesto.  To be told, after so many years of “You should be more outgoing, you shouldn’t be so quiet, you have a great personality if you’d just put yourself out there,” that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, was mind-blowing.  We introverts have some pretty amazing super powers when we’re not trying to contort our spherical personalities into the quadrilateral spaces carved out by our more extroverted companions.

As an aside, if you are an introvert, are related to an introvert, are friends with or love/like an introvert, you really should read this.  It is a treasure trove of explanations of how introverts think, and view the world, what gets us charged up, and what makes us want to retreat into a cave and hide.  Oh, and check out Quiet Revolution (@LiveQuiet) on Twitter, or at quietrev.com, as well.  Loads of good content for introverts and the people who love us.

Quite honestly, this is why this book is on my list: Words can liberate if delivered by the right authority.  If a book can free me, even if it’s just a little bit, it’s worth the time to read it.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice

P

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

Okay, so this might be another cliché, particularly for a female writer.  I’m not going to apologize for this one either.

I have always been drawn to intelligent people, but that intelligence has to be tempered with a playfulness that borders on innocent.  Don’t use big words and expect me to swoon, but if you can use those big words in a way that makes me laugh in delight, or make me want to play, I might pause to slow down a bit.

In Elizabeth Bennet, I found my hitherto unknown sister?  Cousin?  Aunt?  I’m really not sure, but I am certain we must be related somehow.  Like “Cousin” Lizzie, I have no use for pretense or posturing.  I am more interested in a person’s character than in their bank account, and although I have been deceived by people who have known how to play me, pretending to be someone they are not, I am inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt.  I am more inclined to keep my opinions to myself, like Jane, and it is a significant event indeed when I speak harshly about another person.

I love the subtle ways Austen turns the hearts of her primary characters, and of her readers.  The way she shows Jane’s disappointment, and then her joy, the way she paints the irrepressible coquettishness of Lydia, Kitty’s immature disappointment, even Mary’s “too old for her age” seriousness.  Jane Austen’s wit and intelligence is on full display in Pride and Prejudice.

To this day, I love intelligent comedy.  I love the kind of romance that is willing to sacrifice pride, ego, and reputation in pursuit of the beloved.  I love tales of close-knit families, close friends, and the foibles that we all try to hide, but which make us all endearingly human.  And I love writers who can combine all of that into timeless, enchanting story.  I think that’s what makes for fantastic literature.

 

 

The Outsiders

O

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

For the longest time, I though the reason why The Outsiders was required reading in middle school, was because the story was set in Oklahoma, where I was living at the time.  I had no idea how popular the novel was outside Oklahoma until the film came out in the early 1980s.

I was impressed that someone wrote a book set in Oklahoma.  I was even more impressed when I found out the author was 15 when she started writing it (and don’t get me started when I found out that “S.E.” was “Susan Eloise”).  I was living in the suburbs of Oklahoma City, but I knew plenty of places where a runaway might hide.  I understood how an older sibling, a parental figure for someone who might otherwise be an orphan, could keep pushing a kid to excel, to make something of themselves.  I understood how hurt feelings could lead to feelings of being rejected.

The Outsiders was another book in which I saw myself very clearly.  I understood the schism that divided people of different social standings.  NCO kid verses officer’s kids.  Blue collar verses white collar.  City verses country.  Jocks verses nerds.  I didn’t really get why so many people put so much value on those divisions.  All I cared about was whether people were nice.

I frequently found myself straddling lines, being neither fish nor fowl, as it were.  I was a certified geek, but I loved basketball, soccer and softball.  I was an NCO’s kid, but I had plenty of friends whose parents were officers.  My family was predominantly blue collar, yet I was encouraged to pursue white collar interests and career paths.  My parents, particularly my father, wanted more for me.

If I thought some of the drama in The Outsiders was a little overblown, I had to stop and remember that, for a lot of teenagers, everything was drama.  Me?  I avoided drama with the same intensity I avoided anything that might result in detention.  My motto was “Keep your head low, and your powder dry.”  I saw enough drama around me, though.  Some of my friends lived for it.

Reading The Outsiders was almost like a glimpse into my own community.  It wasn’t so much a guide to help me understand who I was, but who the people around me were.  To this day, when I go to visit some place I’ve never been before, I often read two or three books set in that place, or by writers from that area.  It gives me a perspective on who the people really are, what has shaped them, what shapes them still, and what they deem important.

 

 

 

Night

N

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

This is another of the books I encountered as an adult that has shaped who I am as a reader.

It was a counselor I knew who recommended the book to me when I was going through a kind of “dark night of the soul” experience.  I was trying to find a way to grapple with the one question I had no answer for: Where was God?  My friend tried to tell me there was no “right” way to wrestle with that question, except I be honest, and she suggested I read Night as a model of honest grappling with God.

Elie Wiesel paints such a personally horrific account of life in the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, the heartless sundering of families, the brutality of hatred against those who are considered “other,” and yet, even as his faith died within him, the ties to God that Nazi hatred could not quite sever completely.  When a young boy is hanged for some offense, some men in the camp asked where God was in the midst of the horror.  Weisel’s response cut through me: “Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.”

I understood Wiesel’s ambivalence regarding his reluctance to leave his father behind, and yet being resentful and angry that, in maintaining his father’s life, his own survival becomes imperiled.  It is the legacy of the dutiful child: doing what is expected at the expense of one’s own sense of identity.

Night was a gateway, of sorts for me.  I began to stop being afraid of the truth, especially my own.  Although I still am fairly reluctant to speak my truth, I am rarely reluctant to acknowledge it, or even to confront it.  I have a near obsessive need to understand my own truth, and I owe much of that to Night.  I also began reading with more discrimination, searching for the truth in whatever book I happened to be reading.  I do read for pleasure, but I am also searching for truth in what I read.  I want to make sure that the author isn’t trying to pull a fast one on me.  I want the truth of the tale: emotional, intellectual, spiritual, factual.

I know there has been much debate as to whether Night is truly memoir or if it is fiction.  My response is that the label itself does not much matter.  Night is witness and it is testimony.  Only Wiesel, himself, can testify to the veracity of the details, and he is no longer here to do so.  The emotional truth of the work is undeniable.  The visceral response to the horror depicted, is true.  The questions it raises are valid and worthy of careful consideration, even if never answered.

Miller, Arthur

M

For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

Miller was the first playwright, besides Shakespeare, that I sought out voluntarily.  The Crucible had been required reading in middle school, and I remember thinking how brilliant a writer he was to bring so much meaning and relevance to an event that happened so long ago.  Hey, to a 13-year-old kid 1692 might as well have been pharaonic Egypt.  Still, I was very familiar with the relationship drama of Abigail Williams and John Proctor.  I watched it played out almost every day in the halls of my school.  I was drawn to how “normal” everything was in his work.  These were characters I understood, even without researching the history of the Salem witch trials, even without understanding the more current historical context in which Miller wrote the play.

When I did make the connections between The Crucible and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s or any other fear-based, hysterical persecution, the meaning of Miller’s work took on added depth.  Here was writing that was powerful, and thought-provoking, and perspective-challenging.  Things weren’t as they seemed, and I began to learn that to every story there is more than just the surface tale.  I think it also marked a turning point, of sorts, when I started trying to understand motives and agenda, not just in the work itself, but in my daily interactions.

I picked up Death of a Salesman in high school, after reading (unassigned, of course) an excerpt from it in my textbook.  After reading the excerpt, I checked the fully script out of the library.  Fascinating, fascinating stuff.  I felt sorry for Willy Loman.  In an odd sort of way, I made the connection between his job as a traveling salesman, and my Dad’s being in the military.  Neither Willy, nor my Dad were given a choice.  They had to go where they were sent, regardless of feelings or preferences.  That’s where the connections ended, though.  My father was dead set against me joining the military, unlike Willy, who hoped Biff would follow in his footsteps.

Still, I felt Willy’s frustrations, his disappointments.  I understood his flight to imagination or the past or whatever haven he found to escape the realities and disappointments of his own life.  Like The Crucible, I watched some of the same relationship dramas unfolding in my daily life:  the weight of expectation placed on a child’s shoulders, confrontations with unyielding, and unsympathetic authority figures (teachers, coaches, parents).  This was also where I first heard the concept of being worth more dead than alive, and I was horrified by it.  In a way, I suppose, Death of a Salesman helped form my opinions about the value of human life.