Tag Archive for reading

Resist: Ignorance 

By Laura Rink

Heartsick over the presidential election, heartsick for all the Americans who feel targeted by a president who doesn’t see humanity in all people, who sees Others who are Less Than, I needed to take some sort of immediate action. I felt a gap between myself and the people who have more reasons to be fearful of this new administration than I. To understand my fellow Americans better, I posted a note to my larger writing group and sent an email to some reader friends: I need book recommendations, fiction or non-fiction, about other people’s experiences living in America. By other, I mean other than me (white, straight, middle class) in any combination. The more recently published the better. Nothing 20th century unless the book is so good you must recommend it. Thank you.

In a perfect world, we would go out into our communities and engage with other people to learn about their experiences and concerns living in America. We would travel around the country or attend a diverse college or at least take classes that exposed us to a variety of people and ideas. I’m an introvert—seeking out strangers to converse with is not going to happen. But instead of doing nothing, I’m reading books. The best written books make you feel like you are in a room with the author or the main characters, in their minds, in their skin, sharing their experiences.

Everyone, thanks to the public library system, has access to books. Read to begin, or to deepen, your understanding of others, to create empathy, to see connections. America is diverse and that will not be changing. Knowing each other better will create respect and harmony in our neighborhoods, in our towns, and in our country.

Books read so far:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel about a Nigerian woman, set in Nigeria, and America where she writes a blog: Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.

Inside Out and Back Again, a free verse novel by Thanhha Lai, inspired by her childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama. The publisher recommends this book for eight- to twelve-year olds, but based on the book’s ability to distill another’s life experience, it should be required reading for everyone, young and old.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, a memoir about a white family and the unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing Walls and her siblings had at the hands of their deeply dysfunctional parents.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, the first of her seven autobiographies recounts her life from age three to seventeen in the South and in San Francisco. Among many memorable parts of the book is the scene where her brother describes seeing a white man, grinning, standing over a dead black man, and her brother asks, “Why do they hate us so much?” Their uncle replied, “They don’t really hate us. They don’t know us. How can they hate us? They mostly scared.”

On my to-read list:

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, a novel by Mohja Kahf, about a Syrian girl transplanted to the American Midwest in the 1970s.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Five Thousand Brothers-in-law: Love in Angola Prison, a memoir by Shannon Hager, about a largely ignored population in Amerika.

Juliet Takes a Breath, young adult fiction by Gaby Rivera, dealing with queer, latinx and social justice themes.

An Uncomplicated Life: A Father’s Memoir of His Exceptional Daughter, Paul Daugherty’s love letter to his daughter who has Down syndrome.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

There are gaps in my reading list, and the diversity of human beings will always make that true. But help me lessen those gaps: in the comments below please give me your book suggestions.


Author’s Bio: 

Laura Rink writes most days—short stories, essays, journal entries, sentences. She is currently working on a memoir, writing with authentic curiosity to find out how who she was has influenced who she has become. Her website LauraRink.com features an occasional blog and a picture of her calico cat.

IN PRAISE OF OLDER WRITERS

Mary Wesley published her first novel at the age of 71, and then a dozen more before she died in 2002 aged 90. Her brilliant coming-of-age World War Two story, The Camomile Lawn, has been adapted for British television. I hope we see it here soon.

Wesley is an inspiration, but I would not have been able to follow – if haltingly – in her footsteps were it not for the revolution in publishing that has taken place in recent years. Frankly, I don’t have a decade to spend on pitches at writing conferences and query letters to agents, and I have no wish to paper my walls with rejection slips. I published my first Sarah McKinney mystery independently in 2013 when I was 64, and the second came out in 2015. These novels now bob along on an ocean of similarly self-published works, garnering a few appreciative reviews but not enough sales to matter to the taxman.

I don’t care. At last I have realized my childhood ambition: to be a Writer!

Writing is one of the few fields in our youth-centered culture (department store Santa might be another) where age is actually an advantage. I no longer have the distractions of school, raising children or working a sixty-hour week. I have time and my pension. I also have a hideaway above the garage that I call my writing studio. More importantly, I have a lifetime of experience to draw on, as well as a lifetime of reading.

Reading books is where writers go to school. Nothing equips a writer better than deep and repeated immersion in literature. After you have read a few thousand books (I calculate I have consumed about five thousand so far) you know when a character is convincingly drawn, or the narrative arc is complete. That is not to say I always get it right in my own work, but when a member of my critique group points out a flaw, I recognize it; it just didn’t feel right when I wrote it.

So what do I like to read? Mysteries, of course, and I find it encouraging that two of my favorite authors, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, continued to produce first-rate stuff well into their eighties. It’s also comforting that characters I fell in love with years ago – Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus and John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick come to mind – mature, get promoted and even retire from the force without losing their appeal. In contrast, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone has survived twenty-four adventures without aging out of her thirties.

Age does have its problems. Have you ever picked up a book with relish only to find (maybe several chapters in) that you’ve already read it? Nancy Pearl, everyone’s favorite librarian, says you never read the same book twice. The second time around, the reader brings an increment of experience and understanding which – if the book was worth reading in the first place – enriches the story. I certainly find this true with classics like Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. When I first read this novel, I was living in Atlanta and new to the States. I admired the construction of parallel narratives, but I didn’t really get it. Now, living in the West and thirty years older, I weep for the narrator confined to his wheelchair, regrets piling up around him. After forty-five years of marriage, I understand the resonance of the title.

My reading feeds my writing, and my writing informs my reading. I have become a more critical reader over the years, less willing to plow on with a book I’m having a hard time with, even if I spent good money for it. Another Nancy Pearl ‘pearl’: you owe it to the writer to read the first fifty pages; subtract a page for every year you are older than fifty! I’m looking forward to the day I can toss a tome aside (probably the large print edition) after a mere ten pages.

I’ll finish with another book recommendation from an older writer. Our Souls At Night was published in 2015 after the author Kent Haruf’s death. It is set, like his earlier novels on the plains of eastern Colorado, and in spare, eloquent prose tells the story of a couple in advanced age who come together to talk about their lives and assuage their loneliness. A young person could not have written this book; a young reader might find it depressing. I found it full of tenderness and hope.

marian_exallAfter a career as an employment lawyer, MARIAN EXALL now writes what she loves to read: mysteries! Like her heroine Sarah McKinney, Marian was born and raised in England. She lived in Atlanta for thirty years before moving to Bellingham where she hikes, gardens and does grandparent duty.

www.marianexall.com

Twitter: @mysterymarian

www.facebook.com/mysterymarianexall

Tell a Story or Two

by Laura Williams

The Three Little Bears, The Bernstein Bears, and Dr. Seuss were the formative books at four years old. In fact, many of these books have teeth marks in them where I chewed the covers. I’d like to think this occurred because the books were so wonderful I wanted to literally devour them. Unfortunately, I fear it was just because I wanted to chew on something. Nonetheless, my hunger for the written word grew steadily as I got older. That hunger for reading slowly gave way to the hunger to write and tell my own stories.

Though sometimes the reading and the writing comes in waves where I read and write all the time to other moments where I forget entirely I should do either, both are very much a part of me. But the question is why? Why do I itch when I haven’t read for a while or written anything creative? My guess is because of the stories. We crave the exciting, the tantalizing, the adventuring, the romancing, and sometimes even the mundane. When we talk with people, we want to know the stories of their lives. When we get together with people we haven’t seen in a while, we catch up by telling stories. Stories punctuate our relationships. As a reader, I love reading new stories. But I want one that captures my imagination and teaches me new things about the world. As a writer, I want to learn the stories around me. I want to peek in to people’s lives and see what makes them operate the way they do. To put it another way, the curiosity may have killed the cat, but the curiosity fuels the writer.

To be curious, means you’re aware of the world and you ask questions. My grandmother, who passed away recently, was someone who asked questions. Not in a gossipy kind of way but in a genuine, care for people kind of way. She was a woman of 99 years on this planet and was full of stories. She always told me I came by the writing game honestly. When she was ten, she won an award for the best essay in class. She liked to try new things and get to know people. She learned their stories and she was interested in those stories. It’s a legacy I wish to continue.

We often choose to escape our world and our stories for those of others. I get that; sometimes our own stories are really hard to live through. But it’s those stories that make us better writers, make us better consumers of the written word. We walk in a lens that is uniquely our own, that no one else has. It’s time we shared that. It may be subtle, it may be quiet but getting thoughts on the page is what fuels this society. It’s what gave us some of my favorite books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, and The Night Circus. All have a unique perspective on the world and only those authors could have told it the way they did.

We walk daily with stories. They may be stories of our lives or they may be out this world. But they need to be shared. I guarantee that once outside of our brains and down on paper, they will make an impact. Maybe that’s what fuels my fire to write. I want to make an impact. Some people use medicine, some sports, I choose the written word and for all of you who hear that same written music, I hope you’re choose stories to make a difference in this world.
LauelLaura Williams is a reading, writing, theatre-ing nerd who loves to find a good book and hide from the world but who also loves to express herself by portraying many different characters on stage. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, she has done her fair share of traveling around the world to experience many different cities and cultures but she is proud to call the PNW home. She blogs about books and movies and loves a good story. Her favorite kind to write are fantasy pieces.