Thursday, August 25, 2011

spark #2: things i read in school.

Hop on over to Christine Tyler's The Writer Coaster if you want to join in the Sparkfest fun. It's not over yet, my friends!

I have a confession to make: I was never a very strong student. Even with reading. I could devour books at home, but what about school? What about being "forced" to read? I had a hard time getting things done, but I did find myself... kind of not hating everything we read as much as my classmates. Like how I inexplicably loved Moby Dick at age 10.

Of all the books I read in school, though, there are three that really stick out as sparks of the writer I would eventually become.

The first was Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. I read it in fifth grade (same year as Moby Dick... weird). I loved that dog (we had a beagle, too).

Reading Shiloh truly spurned me to add "author" to the List of Things I Wanted to be When I Grew Up. Other notable contenders: veterinarian (short lived once I realized what it would involve), actor (still working on that one), doctor or nurse (see vet, above), and, "anything but a teacher" (but perhaps I was just being rebellious).

The summer between my eighth and ninth grade years, I read To Kill a Mockingbird. It changed my life. What fascinated me even more than the voice and the story and the world and Boo Radley, though, was learning about Harper Lee. The fact that she published only one book, that it was the only story she felt she had to tell, exhilarated me.* I knew then that I, too, had at least one story inside me I would have to tell, even if I didn't know what it was yet (I do now, though--and I just got cold chills). And if it was only one story, just one book? All the more beautiful, in my fourteen-year-old eyes.

*(Of course, that's the romanticized version.)

The best English class I ever had was my junior year in high school. I could devote an entire post to this one class. The teacher, Mrs. S, was one of the best of my entire education. She was devoted to making us passionate about literature, and it worked. Because of her, I did not hate The Scarlet Letter as much as I would have, otherwise. Ha. But Mrs. S didn't just teach us the state curriculum. She had a way of sneaking in her personal favorites, and books she deemed important. One of these was The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Oh my gosh, talk about changing my life. This was the first book I ever thought of as "grabbing me and not letting me go." (It also kick-started a fascination/slight obsession with the Vietnam War that lasted well into college.) And, in the vein of Harper Lee, Tim O'Brien fascinated me. Hearing his story made me think of writing in a whole new way--again. I saw the healing it could bring, the connections it could make. And I wanted to be able to do that, too.

Tune in next time for the sparks that finally--and officially--got me to write my first novel.

Oh, that first novel.


  1. Whee, I'm the first today! Those three books are all so makes me nostalgic. I was like you, in the sense that I didn't hate reading the books for school as much as my classmates did. The only book that I didn't enjoy was the Grapes of Wrath, but that could have been because we had a student teacher for that unit, and she wasn't very passionate. If the teacher can't even get into the book, how can the students?

  2. I loved the books we had to read at school, but I had to keep it quiet. It wasn't acceptable to like reading 'school stuff' :)

  3. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird! That is definitely one of my favorite books that I read in school.

  4. I don't remember disliking any of the books I had to read for school, but I was forced to read things I never would have picked up otherwise. Like 1984 and Brave New World. Oddly enough, it was a Danielle Steele book I read when I was 13 that sparked that flame of wanting to be a novelist. Can't remember the title, but the MC wrote books. I think.

  5. I guess if you only had one book to write, To Kill a Mockingbird would be the perfect choice.

  6. I loved the pure and simple fact that I was required to read. "Sorry, I didn't finish my math. I had to read this instead." (And then the math teacher gives me a sympathetic look because math teachers don't understand about reading being fun.)

  7. The Things They Carried is, in my opinion, the best book on war you'll ever read. You're absolutely right. Life changing. Just, so, so powerful. I'll never get the scene with the baby buffalo out of my head, and the mindset behind it. Just where people *go* in their heads when they see so much violence.

    And the time when they (or they didn't, right? haha), napalmed that whole mountain because they got spooked. Flabbergasting. Gosh, it was just so weird and honest.

    In On Writing, Stephen King mentions that statement by Harper Lee. He said he couldn't understand why a writer would only write one book. He seemed really disappointed, and was like, "why not keep going if you're awesome?" But I totally get it. People become writers for different reasons. Stephen King wanted to be a storyteller. Harper Lee wanted to tell A story. Nothing wrong with that. And like you said, very exciting.

  8. Hi, Just dropping in to say hello from the Writers Campaign. I am in the same (poetry) group as you (among others). I look forward to getting to know you better during the campaign.
    JoAnna (helenclancy)


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