Monday, May 26

When memories are gifts

           Before I say anything else, thanks to all who have served. Let us not forget.
***
       
 I thought today of a book I read in 1973. I don’t remember its title or the names of the protagonists, but the heroine’s baby was stillborn and her little boy, named Chris just as mine was, was killed in an accident. I had nightmares about her Chris and mine, and I knew then that I’d never have a child die in a book. Children die, I know they do, but I can’t bear it any better now than I could then. (Note: My Chris is fine--it was the child in the book who died--but I still couldn't stand it.)
          I read a book once where a chapter ended with the words “…she cried and cried and cried.”
          I read a book where the author made liberal use of the word “quipped.” No one ever joked or grinned or snickered or snorted laughter, but every-damn-body quipped.
          I read a book called The Silver Cord. The heroine’s mother-in-law was possessive and vindictive. She didn’t have a single, solitary redeeming trait, yet her otherwise very intelligent son could see no wrong in anything she said or did.
          I remember from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm the verse:
          Woodman, spare that tree;
          Touch not a single bough.
          In youth it sheltered me,
          And I’ll protect it now.
And from Little Women I remember to "…don't let the sun go down upon your anger. Forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow."
And from another book the warm comfort of “…murmured wordlessly…”
And from yet another, the punch of a one-sentence paragraph at the end of a chapter or scene. Do the words “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” ring a bell?
These are only a few things I remember from books I have read. There are many more. Some of them have improved or changed my own writing—I never use the word “quip” and I don’t write characters with no redeeming qualities or men who think their mothers are perfect. I probably use the one-sentence paragraph ending too often and I’m sure I’ve plagiarized the words “cried and cried and cried” though I’m not sure when or where. I’ve learned, from reading things like “…murmured wordlessly”, that for my writing at least, emotion is the driving force.
Some have impacted marriage—I don’t go to bed mad. Some, like the verse in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, haven’t changed anything.
But I remember that verse 50 years after I read the book. I “knew” Vermont 30 years before I went there because I read and reread Understood Betsy. When we went to Ireland, I felt Nora Roberts’ Born In… Trilogy everywhere we went.
Writers get asked a lot about why we write. Why we struggle on, and on in the ever-changing world of publishing. The answers are as varied as we are. But this post is about why I read and have done so nonstop since the very first book in the Dick and Jane series. The first word in the first book was “Look.” I remember.
I read not only for the pleasure of doing so, but for the things I remember. The things that change me. Or don’t. The things that make me laugh and cry and wait. After reading that first “Look”, I never looked back.
What do you remember?

20 comments:

  1. Isn't it funny how we writers are probably also the most faithful of readers and always have been even before we even knew we were writers? The things we keep cached in our minds from books we've read over the years is pretty amazing when you think about all the other stuff we're actually supposed to be remembering. From Anne of Green Gables, "Today is brand new, with no mistakes in it...yet." From a teen novel by Rosamund du Jardin, Class Ring, "I rubbed my cheek on his flannel shirt. 'Don't do that," he snapped. "Trying to work on my feelings." So why does that ONE stick? Who knows? How Gene Stratton-Porter always described The Harvester as "the man." Also as you say, just words or phrases, like "Jonah days," "ungrateful cur," and "kindred spirit" that have stuck in our heads long after we've closed the book...even years or decades after we've closed the book. When you're a reader, books become a part of who you are...how could they not?

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    1. I think there are enough memories from the Anne books to create a blog post unto themselves, especially since I keep re-watching the movies! Thanks for coming by, Nan.

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  2. I got my first library card in Glendale, Calif. when I was 3. They would let you get a card if you could write your name. Mom would always read my books to me before she read her own. I'm 67 and I don't think there's been a time since when I haven't had a book going. I can't think of any particular phrases off the top of my head but I remember the sense of a book. Cross Creek made me realize how important places can be...so important that someone can have a bond to a place they've never been before. I've gone through phases of reading. When I was a kid, I read every book about animals. I got hooked on the plantation south. Then non-fiction about farms and the country. Then books about war, especially Vietnam. For quite a while, it has been mysteries and adventure. I will stop sometimes to re-read and admire a certain turn of phrase. Without books, I'm not sure I would care to survive!

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    1. That was what I did with Vermont--bonded before I ever went there. I have phases, too, and even when I go on to another one, I never fully leave the one I'm in. Plus, I'm big on comfort reads. Cozy mysteries are like literary mashed potatoes! :-) Thanks for coming by, Vic.

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  3. Funny, I don't remember words or phrases or sentences--but I do remember how I felt when reading a particular book. That's probably why I reread so much--getting that special feeling back (and I always do). I return to Maine with Elisabeth Ogilvie, or England and The Netherlands with Betty Neels; Cornwall with W. J. Burley's Supt. Wycliffe; Oxford with Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse; New York with Rex Stout's 1/7 of a ton Nero Wolfe and his dashing assistant Archie Goodwin . . . . This list could be longer than your post, Liz! Books are where I went to recover myself--and still do. I hope people who read mine do the same. Thanks for reminding us, Liz...great post.

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    1. Thanks, Judith. And, oh, yes on remembering how they felt. Makes me think I need to make a return visit to Bennett's Island. :-)

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  4. Oh, my, I can remember scenes and characters and feelings--but there are few one liners I can call to mind right off this morning. I do remember a couple of descriptive phrases from an old Western my uncle had when I was young. (I used to dig in his bookcases when the family went to visit.) Anyway, both are from Luke Short--one said of a character, "He lounged off" a table he was leaning on. Another described a horse standing "hip shot" at a tie rail. I love both of them still. Great post, Liz. Barb Bettis

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    1. Thanks, Barb. I remember reading "hit shot." I had to try it. :-) And I love "lounged off." You can just see it, can't you?

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  5. LOL....Love the 'murmured wordlessly'! I too remember the quotes from Little Women and GWTW:) Loved Understood Betsy, and the one book I wish I could find again is Wheels For Ginny's Chariot. It was about a young girl who is unexpectedly paralyzed and how she eventually comes to terms with her disability. I found it in the public library when I was 12 and kept checking it out over the next several years, until I went to college. I would also love to revisit my Jr. High library, to see if some of the books I enjoyed are still there. Great post Liz:)

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    1. Thanks, Molly. Nan Reinhardt and I talked about all the books we'd read from our high school libraries. It's amazing what we remember. Being a reader is so much more than just being a geek--it's having friends from everywhere all the time! :-)

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  6. First off, I'm sorry about Chris. How horrible to lose a child. It's a grief that never leaves.
    The strongest books I remember are ones I've tried to emulate in my own way!
    And, yes, never forget those who died so we can write what we please.

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    1. Oh, no, D--I'm sorry I wasn't clearer. My Chris is alive and well--six feet six, 24 years married, and the father of two perfect daughters--but the little boy in the story who died was named Chris and he was the same age as mine. But yes, the loss of a child is something I can't even bear to think about, much less write about.

      Thanks for coming by!

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  7. Reading fascinated me from the first grade on. I remember having a hardback children's book about a collie that I'd take to bed with me at night. My mom always bought me books as gifts and they were the most cherished presents I had. Got my first library card by the second or third grade and as a teen, my favorite place to visit was the book store. I've always been a reader and I know it was reading all those fascinating tales and memorable charcters that brought out the writing bug in me. I wanted to do for readers what those writers did for me throughout my life.

    So sorry about your son. I can't even imagine living with that type of loss.

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    1. No, I'm sorry again--I didn't lose my Chris. It was the child in the book. I need to fix that! I remember taking good care of my Little Golden Books years beyond the time of reading them. :-)

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  8. I remember reading a passage in a book and understanding that I wasn't the only one who thought in a certain way, and that the author had beautifully summarized my ideas and ideals. It was a sharing of the deepest kind, with a person I've never met, that helped me know I'll never be alone as long as I have a book.

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  9. My fondest reading memories are of going to the library with my mother or to the Goodwill to get cheap books. In our house, we all read. Some of my childhood favorites were Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew. Once I was older , I gravatated toward happy ending stories. I remember a series with nurses or nursing students (Cherry?). Once I hit high school, I discovered Harlequins and that was that. I branched out from there! Now, with my mother living with me, she's introduced me to a lot of her fantasy books and there are many I now adore.

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    1. Cherry Ames--I read her, too. Thanks to her and Sue Barton, I wanted to be a nurse for a long time. Fortunately I figured out I had a little problem with blood... Thanks for coming by!

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  10. When I was in first grade, my mom signed me up for the Weekly Reader book club--I still have like seven of those books. They have traveled from VIrginia to Iceland to Vancouver and all my homes in-between.

    In second grade I discovered The Boxcar Children--loved, loved them. I wanted to find a treasure in a dump. Imagine my disappointment when I went to the dump with my dad and it was just piles of garbage.

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    1. Well, duh, I answered this and it disappeared. I loved Weekly Reader--I used to spend some Christmas money so I could get the summer issues. I don't remember getting books, though--the library was my best friend.

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