A well-written letter or story can tell you more about a person than a conversation.
I subscribe to The Rumpus’ Letters in the Mail, where twice a month I receive a letter from an author or writer. The one I received this morning was from Kevin Sampsell. I admit I was not familiar with this particular author, but looked him up and decided I would probably like him. I would probably like him as a writer and him as a person. I like his writing style in the letter, the fact his memoire is called A Common Pornography, and I like that he works at a Powell’s bookstore. Anyone who works at a bookstore has my vote for probably being a decent person.
Anyways, in the letter he reminisces on adolescence, the awkwardness of puberty, and his dabbling into reading as a teenager. He writes:
“… I read a couple of horror books that titillated me in some strange way. ..I recall a scene where a guy feels up a girl, maybe in a haunted house. I wonder if that was the first time I’d been “turned on” by words.”
He asks at the end of the letter, what book was the first to make you cry and what book first sent warm sexy waves through your blood.
I think the first book to make me cry was The Giving Tree. Recently, the Kite Runner had me bawling by the end. I’m pretty sure I cried after reading Water for Elephants, and possibly even The Notebook (Don’t judge. There is a reason Nicholas Sparks sells so many copies).
As for books that “sent warm sexy waves through my blood,” my favorite books as a teenager were the Amelia Peabody mystery series, about an intrepid Victorian archeologist and her penchant for finding herself in the middle of murder mysteries. She also is rather fond of poking rude gentlemen with her parasol and defying all sorts of traditional lady-like decorum, instead preferring to wear trousers and ride with either leg on the side of the horse versus side-saddle. You have no idea what an impression these books had on me. At age 15, I went to archaeology camp. At age 17, I attended Brown University summer classes on Egyptology. Even in college, when I decided to become an English major, I still harbored dreams of being a travel writer off on some grand archaeological adventure, chronicling the important historical finds and unraveling the ancient mysteries of antiquity.
I would spend hours reading and re-reading the Amelia Peabody mysteries, losing myself in the romance and adventure of gold and rose hued sunsets over the majestic pyramids of Giza, sailing by dahabeeya down the Nile, the lure of antiquities and treasure, and the twists and turns of the mysteries she solved.
Feeling nostalgic, I started listening to the books again on audiobook during my commute to my work. What a way to completely turn around the two-plus hours I spend in rush hour traffic each day! I almost look forward to the commute now, the time I get to lose myself again, feeling those “warm sexy waves” through my blood.
That excitement of a story, that deep passion, an almost a physical urge to be IN the story, to have the story BE real, is what makes me read, and more importantly, write. Within the act of creation, you can lose yourself in the world. I am working on a novel right now, and when I write, I get so lost in the story that it almost seems to write itself. I am constantly surprised at the twists and turns and characters that emerge. It’s like painting a picture, adding layer and layer of depth and dimension until the world IS real. But the key to writing and writing well, is to paint that picture for another with words, so that it becomes just as real to another as it is to yourself. A gift for them to see things as you do, to create something in which they can lose themselves.
Cassandra Clare, in Clockwork Prince, sums it up quite nicely:
We live and breathe words. …. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you.
Are you dreaming and thinking and feeling with me?