The Sunday Salon: Reading and Rambling Along

The Sunday

Nothing stops me from reading.

You all know that.

No matter how many boxes need packing, how much stuff needs sorting, how much laundry needs doing, when my heart feels tugged toward my book my body soon follows it to the comfy chair in the corner of my writing room where I can curl up and escape into a different world.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve found books my most tried and true companions. When I’m happy, I love to celebrate it with reading. When I’m hurting, losing myself in the words and ideas of others soothes my soul for a while.

For the books I’ve loved the most, I’m always curious to know more about their authors. So often, reading a book sends me down a virtual pathway to that writers door. I research biographies, collections of letters, published versions of their journals. If you were to search my shelves, you’d find little villages where an author “lives” in the printed word, surrounded by her own books like she would be children.  Madeleine L’Engle has a large amount of real estate in this neighborhood. So do Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. As does Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anna Quindlen is there – her novels and her memoirs. Gail Godwin’s novels have been joined recently by her two volumes of memoir.

Over the years, there has been criticism devoted to people who try and place authors too squarely in their work, who try and figure out what it was in the writer’s personal life that led them to write a certain character or develop a certain theme.

It shouldn’t matter, they’ve said. The writer’s personal life does not affect our interpretation of her work.

But how can it not? I think. And why wouldn’t I want it to? For me, it adds that extra bit of seasoning when I realize how an author’s own personality or life experience has shaped their work. It’s a gift, an extra layer in the cake that makes up our shared human experience.

It’s also one of the things that I’ve loved about “book blogging.” It has allowed me to meet so many writers through their blogs and on their Facebook and Twitter. It does not at all detract from the “mystery” of their writing. On the contrary, it adds a deeper dimension to my reading of their books.

Reading is the whole package for me – it’s The Story, but it’s also about the Creator of The Story. I love getting to know both of them.


4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Reading and Rambling Along

  1. I agree with what you’ve said – that knowing something about the author can enrich our experience and understanding of their work. But it’s also true that we sometimes can write things that are less directly connected to our lives.

    When I wrote my poem “Search Pattern”, with its sense of sadness and loss, I actually received emails from a few concerned readers who were sure I was depressed, anxious, unhappy – and that the poem was my way of dealing with it. I had to laugh – though it grew out of a real-life experience, it wasn’t my experience. I had used the real world as a jumping-off point. Seeing me in the poem just wasn’t justified.

    So yes, and no – I love learning about authors, too – but we can’t “read” authors through all their characters. After all, if we only could write what we know, it would be a far poorer literary world. I think it’s better to say we write about what we’ve experienced, what we’ve learned about, and we can imagine.

    ps – got all those boxes packed? ;0

  2. Wonderful post. I also like learnign about authors and have often trekked to the NYPL to look up something about authors I have been currently reading if I don’t already know anything about them. I do think that it brings something more to what is being read.

  3. Very nice post – I also like looking at the whole picture, a habit I inherited from my mother. However I wish I had a nickle for every “why are you doing that” look I have gotten when talking about reading biographies or, even worse, a collection of letters.

    Good luck with your packing.

  4. Well, nothing new here — like the other who have commented, I, too, like knowing about the author, their background. It often makes the stories richer. (I’m hoping to start Love in a Cold Climate and I know it will be all the richer for all the Mitford bios I’ve read!) But, I suppose it also depends on the books. It’s more than just falling in love with a book or series for me; there’s something more — something I can’t quite describe, but “something” that separates. Got to think on that one! Counting down!

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