My Epic Summer of Reading: Books for Writers.
|My new journals, inspired|
by Charles Darwin
After sitting on it for a couple of days I have decided to lump everything into a few posts, maybe five. So the series will be My Epic Summer of Reading. Here we go with numero uno: Books for Writers.
In my list of books to read for the Simmons College Children's Institute, three jumped out as instant favorites. What was it that I loved about them so much? They made me want to write. The characters were sometimes writers. The authors inspired me to keep writing. A common theme in the weekend at Simmons was that we all have a story to tell. After hearing these women speak, I starting writing again after about a three year hiatus. (For me this a huge deal. I started my first journal in 3rd grade and kept one religiously until 3 years ago. Also, I still have them all.) It feels soooo good! So here are three books for your budding writers.
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry, middle grade (woohoo!)
Lois Lowry can do no wrong. Yep, I said it. Even now, after I have heard her speak in real life, and after briefly discussing the misfortune of Kanye West's attempt at writing, I can stand even more firmly behind that statement. It was The Giver, that Lowry wrote many years ago, which changed my relationship with books. I wish I had read Anastasia Krupnik back then but I am glad that we finally crossed paths.
Anastasia is a young girl living in Cambridge, MA with her parents. She has a straight forward attitude and isn't afraid to ask questions or speak her mind. She analyzes and thinks about everything, something I know I did when I was her age. Lowry admitted at our conference that Amy Carter, former first daughter, inspired her when writing the character of Anastasia. She told us that once, when Amy was asked by a reporter if she had any advice for the children of America, she responded as Anastasia also might respond, "No."
What I love most about Anastasia is her authentic, honest voice. I found myself laughing out loud multiple times, simply because she is so very much her own character, and every kid at the same time. My sister even stopped and asked what was so funny all the time and I had to read some out loud to her.
At the end of each chapter Anastasia adds to lists of things she loves and things she hates. Through her lists we see her develop and transform as things she loves (writing lists, my wort) grow and things she hates sometimes move to a new list (Washburn Cummings, maybe!). Anastasia inspired me to keep my own lists and I can't wait to read the rest of the series.
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman, middle grade to YA
I knew I loved this book when I read Charles's list of reasons to marry and reasons not to marry. Yes, one of the most forward thinking minds in history did what I do, what Anastasia Krupnik does, what probably some of you do, he made a list. Side note: It was reassuring to see that he and I share similar lists in this thought process.
At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to read another historical fiction book, especially about another old, dead, white guy. Man, was I in for a treat. Heiligman does a brilliant job of bringing the facts together in a way that tells a little bit of history, as well as an endearing story of love. I knew who Darwin was, obviously, and knew his research changed our world. However, I didn't know that he could write love letters, that he was a fantastic father who, unlike most men of his generation, spent true quality time with his children. I didn't know that he was sick most of his life. And more than anything, I didn't know he married a God-loving, Christian woman...who was his first cousin.
|This meme, borrowed from http://io9.com, captures some of|
Darwin's list of whether or not he should be married.
Emma Darwin was his first cousin, yes, but she had so much strength and conviction that I found myself falling in love with her as Charles did. When I first learned about her strong relationship with her sister, which I know too well, I knew I would like her. As her growing strength and resolve were revealed through many losses in her life, it only made me love her more. Yet, it was her writing that sealed the deal. She and Charles sent many letters to each other throughout their entire courtship and marriage. She was his first reader on all of his books. She also kept a journal herself. Since this was the first book I read this summer it was also the first to inspire me to write. Emma's journals weren't lengthy letters to herself about the goings on in her life. Rather, they were short notes, kept as reminders of those moments that were most important. After reading this, I gave myself permission to start writing, even if it wasn't long diatribes about my life story. Sometimes, just getting something on paper is worth it.
What made this a true love story for me was the use of primary sources. As Heiligman told us at the conference, this was very important to get a new, fresh perspective on Charles and Emma. She could have read everything written about the famous scientist or his life. Instead, she wanted to see what Charles and Emma thought, the story told by their own words. By doing this, Heiligman creates a love and romance that is real. Certainly it is more genuine than listing the hundreds of ways a shiny vampire's eyes sparkle. I may not have found my true love after reading Charles and Emma, but I definitely rekindled by relationship with writing. I bought my first new journal (two in fact, one for lists and one for writing!) in 3 years and thanks to Charles and Emma, I started to fill it up again.
See you at Harry's by Jo Knowles, YA
If you have the courage to pick up this book, I seriously encourage you to also pick up a box of tissues or two. I hesitated to write about this book because I didn't want to give away too much of the story. But let me tell you what I loved and why you should read it.
I love the main character, Fern. I appreciate that sometimes she loves her family and sometimes she just can't stand them, no matter what. She explains her world in a way that sometimes makes you cringe, because you know she will regret what she is thinking, and sometimes makes you laugh, because you have been there yourself.
I love that this family is average and not average, all at the same time. Many of my friends will tell me, "Well, you know, that's not like my family. We are kind of dysfunctional." Really? Show me a family that isn't dysfunctional. Some may put up appearances pretty darn well, and some turn their dysfunction into fantastic stories (me!), but there is no normal family. Ever. Including this family in See You at Harry's.
Fern's parents, hippies from long ago, own a family restaurant and try to keep things going while struggling with finances and a big family. Sarah, the oldest, should be going to college but decided to take a year off. Holden, the second child, is struggling with coming out, when everyone, on some level, already knows he is gay. Charlie, the youngest and the "oops", is 3 and obsessed with Fern, who really can't stand him at all. Some of these seem like pretty ordinary issues to deal with, but complications come their way that will leave you sobbing. (Don't say I didn't warn you!)
Why this book for a writer? Well, Jo was also at our conference and spoke beautifully about the importance of telling the tough stories, writing the books that might be hard to handle but are just as important in our world. Again, it inspired me to get my stories on paper. Maybe my tough stories will help others, or maybe just me. Either way, I gained more inspiration to tell stories.
So there you have it, episode one. It is a lot, I know. This is why I have to break this post up, and you are welcome for the jump...just couldn't let this one take over an entire page of my blog.