Friday, August 12, 2011

What Books Influenced You ?

In  his book, Unless It Moves the Human Heart  The Craft and Art of Writing, Roger Rosenblatt tells about asking his students , “Where was it for you ?  Every one of you has read something at an early age that made you want to become a writer. Who was it, and why ?”

The response was wide and varied, some recalled  a first book at the library, another said no specific book , but she found stories extremely one sided, and only told stories of the heroes. That after reading books she found the anti-heroes more interesting , and wanted to know more about them, and because of that was inspired to become a writer.

 Rosenblatt posed a good question, I thought,  and like his students ,  pondered  how I might  answer it.  Who was it for me? Which author, which book made me want to become a writer. The  Bobbsey Twins, The Happy Hollisters, Blaze, and Toby Tyler all came to mind.  As did The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Little Women, and Nancy Drew. I recall  that  during my grade school years  some of those  early Whitman books had been birthday  gifts  from childhood friends, and how happy I was to get them.

 I don’t ever remember when books weren't  an important  part of my life.  Authors like Victoria Holt, Taylor Caldwell, Michener, and Rumer Godden filled my imagination with their stories of other places, and people. I think about the  great poets—Eugene Field, James Whitcomb Riley, Kipling and Longfellow , and how my mother read  me  their poems from the time I was a very little girl, and the positive  impact they still have on me. 

While  contemplating  Rosenblatt’s question, I was about to conclude  it was  impossible to name just one,  there are so many books that have held me captive  late at night,   with just a small reading light to  guide my way across the page.  However, there is one book  , “Pentimento”, and in particular the chapter titled, Julia   that still catches my breath, and causes me to say, I want to write like that.  On the opening page, Lillian Hellman immediately draws me in when she writes,

Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent.  When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large  boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented”, changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again.

That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged now and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now. 

While set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, and its evilness,  Julia is really the story of friendship, and what  one  is willing to do  for the other  in time of need. Without ever saying it, Hellman is writing about loyalty and trust. Her memoir ,  perfectly woven,  easily moves along between narration and dialogue, so much so that  when  Julia was made into an award winning movie in 1977, the scriptwriters job was made easy as very little was changed from Hellman's original  written word. 

When first reading Pentimento , I was only in my twenties, and  even then Hellman’s  reflection about  how ‘the paint has aged’  caused  me to think   about my  own age, and the people and events in my life,  and how I wanted to write about them.  But more so  now, when with each day, I move closer to 61, and recall with affection  those times as I remember them to be, but also,  perhaps,   with a slightly new, and different perspective; sometimes seeing them through  crystal clear eyes, other times as  through  misty sky. 


Keeping  in mind Roger Rosenblatt's theory,  every one (aspiring writers)  has read  something at an early age that makes them want to become a writer, you might find it helpful, and fun in answering his  question, too , “ Where was it for you ? Who was it , and why?”


Mary Jane Honegger said...

Smashing post, Kathy. I too don't remember a time when books weren't important to my life. Through books I escaped into different places, times, and worlds - away from four bothersome younger sisters and one annoying older brother. How thankful we should all be that we had access to the books of our youth.

elizabethbrinton said...

This is totally chilling and so inspiring. How that passage from "Pentimento" moved me when I first heard it in the film.
My mother read "Anne of Green Gables" to a group of my friends starting in June of 1963. As I sat on the edge of my seat, I vowed I become a writer. It is still with me, that moment. Thank you for the reminder!

Jennifer Rova said...

My mother was an avid reader ergo so was I. My siblings were much older than I so reading filled the silence. It wasn't a book that drove me to write but a gh school history teacher. He said, "You write well." Never given a choice but I would take deafness over blindness so I could at least continue to read.