Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Saundra: Five Books That Made This Writer


Not only is this book willfully transgressive and stubbornly unsentimental, it's the first book that taught me that the words left off the page are just as important are the words left on.

Let the wild rumpus begin- and then it did in the most incredible way. Those strobe-captured moments left so much room for Max's celebration to become anything- as wild, as rumpusful, as infinite as our own imaginations allowed.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the very essence of show, don't tell- the very foundation of writing.

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA - Katherine Paterson

A book of startling honesty, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is the first book that I remember reflecting the real caprice and chaos of the world. Sometimes people are strange and selfish; sometimes terrible things happen for no reason at all.

And for me at that age, I was comforted knowing that other people Went Away- to Terabithia, to their fantasies, and that these otherplaces could live with, not in spite of, the ungentled intrusion of reality.


There's a certain shell of despair to poverty, and this book gets that. In three brothers and a handful of greasers, S.E. Hinton revealed the distraction of hunger. The restless acceptance of a menial fate. The ordinariness of violence and death. The inescapable truth that your friends and your pride- these are all you will ever be able to call your own when you're poor.

But Hinton also let the sunrise and sunset bring hope- not a promise that things will be better, but a whisper that things could be better. That you could be more. That it's possible to be hungry, but still full- of thoughts, ideas, even beauty.


This book is quite simply the absolute distillation of everything I took from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and THE OUTSIDERS. It's non-fiction, beautifully written, revealing how directed, and how arbitrary, our short time here on earth really is.

Simon's exhaustive, exhausted look at the men and women who investigate murders in Baltimore, Maryland is not about true crime. It's about living, and finding the perversity, the tragedy, the beauty, and the sacred in all of it.

I can only try to capture the thinnest margin of his success there, but every time I sit down to write, I try.

ON WRITING - Stephen King & STARTING FROM SCRATCH - Rita Mae Brown

I love both of these books for the things they say about the art, the heart and the meaning of writing. King's description of the telepathic art and Brown's insistence that a book is only half done when it leaves your hands (and your cat's paws) were deeply meaningful for me.

But I also love them for reminding me that nobody- not even a best seller- knows anything about the act of writing.

The only way to write a book is to sit down and write it. And everything else- from Stephen King's absurd dismissal of word counts under 5000 words a day, and Brown's brow-lifting dictate that every writer should learn Latin, Greek and own all 13 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary- that's all personal eccentricity.

Having these books as reminders of both- art and act- has defined me, and I'm so glad to have them both in my collection.


  1. Oh, the Outsiders.

    Ponyboy, les sigh.

    LOVED it.

    And still love the Wild Rumpus, just read it to E the other night. Such a perfect book.

    *Can't stop smiling today!*

  2. awesome list. I am now off to order HOMICIDE from the library.

    You are what you read!

  3. Oh boy! How many cute guys were in the movie version of the Outsiders. Yum!

    I had the hardest time with depressing books growing up. When my mom gave me the book DEATH BE NOT PROUD one Christmas, I threw it into the fireplace (luckily, we were living in Mississippi at the time and never needed a fire). Eventually I retrieved it and loved it but I remember having a similar reaction to BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA.

    All that pain--I just didn't know what to do with it and of course I didn't realize that it reflected my own teenaged angst.

    Great post, S!

  4. I love that last point -- so true! I also loved On Writing because he made it ok to write genre.

    Great post!

  5. BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA - So true how you described it.

    Great list!

  6. And despite King's command to delete all adverbs, sometimes I do allow one or two to stand ... quietly.