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The Books We Went To

Last time I talked about unpacking boxes of childhood relic books and being somewhat struck that, if you based what I would be writing now off of what I read then, you'd be way off.  Then I started thinking about the books that really informed my writing style and how I feel about writing, if not necessarily the subject matter.  You know what?  Many of those books came from long ago in my reading past--many were high school finds--but they weren't in boxes.  Nope, they're on my shelf.

They were the books I was so thrilled to discover and read that I couldn't leave them behind through my moves, and they came with me.

A few of them:

All Quiet on the Western Front.  Even before Downton Abbey I had a soft spot for World War I, and perhaps some of it comes from this book.  Yes, it's a war book with a pretty specific theme and message, and a lot of the scenes are pretty graphic.  But here's the thing--it's also the book that taught me that any prose can also be poetry.  You read Remarque's writing (even in translation, and seriously--kudos to the translator, too) and you find yourself falling into a lyrical cadence in so many spots.  It's hard to read, given the emotional grit of the subject, but it's worth it on so many levels.

A Dark Horn Blowing.  One of the first young adult books I read that had an obvious voice and beauty to the language.  This book was one of the first that I read that I didn't read for plot alone--the language is in and of itself transporting.  You don't need to know the story to know exactly how the characters are feeling, because the author inserts so much subtle emotion and mood into the first-person narrative.  It's beautiful and dark and quietly moving (and a really, really neato story based on various myths).

Suite Francaise.  So many things to say about this book, but what stands out and demands to be noticed are the characters.  Nemirovsky creates these multidimensional, often ethically questionable but always sympathetic, lifelike characters and the insane thing is, she does it so quickly.  In the first of the series (of five, only two of which were finished) she links the story of the flight from Paris in advance of the Nazis together using vignettes featuring a wide array of characters.  There are literally dozens--and when they come back into the story, you recognize them immediately.  Absolutely masterful.  The thing that gets me every time, though, is that she writes a beautiful, understanding, and realistic love story between the wife of a French POW and the German officer billeted in her house.  The moral squishiness of this is wonderful.  And so are the sympathetic characters whom you are rooting for--especially given that Jewish Nemirovsky died in a concentration camp before she could finish the series.  That's right--while hiding from the Nazis she wrote a convincing, beautiful love story starring a German officer and a woman who would doubtless be called a collaborator.  Talk about effective character creation.

There are more--maybe once in a while I'll devote a post to Books That Make My Inner Writer Happy--but these are a few of my favorites.  What are the books that you can point to that opened your eyes to some of the magic of writing?


  1. For me, those would be the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis, Peace Like a River by Leif Unger, and LM Mongomery's Anne books.

    1. I have to file "anything by CS Lewis" in my "source of constant inspiration" drawer!

  2. For me it would be "The Enchanted Wood" by Enid Blyton. I was incredibly young when I read it, but it wasn't just the story (although that was lovely... I'll read it in a hour now for some nostalgia.) It was the actual book: published in like 1960, really battered. It was sold to someone for 50p, and their name is written in the corner in pencil. You can tell that many people have passed this book onwards, and I don't remember how I managed to get hold of it. But it sort of sums up the magic of writing for me: the number of people who can be entranced by the same story, no matter how old they are, is amazing.

    1. Great story, Ravena! I love old books for just that reason--finding little traces of who used to love the book in them. Like algebra homework (no, really, I found scratch paper tucked in a Tennyson volume once!)

  3. I loved Suite Francaise!

    I really haven't thought about what books I've read that have influenced my writing style. Hmm. But I just finished reading People of the Book. It was great. I hope it influences my writing style. :)


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