“The Little Book” a novel by Shelden Edwards
Wheeler Burden did not think of visiting Berggasse 19 until the third day in Vienna, or at least there is no mention of it in the journal he kept with meticulous care from almost the moment of his arrival.
This is the first book in my mission to start reading all of the unread books on my bookshelves and it was an excellent beginning. It was the perfect escape from the winter and post-holiday letdown. Edwards started writing this novel in 1974 and finished in 2007 and it reads like an act of devotion- to the writing process but also to his passions which appear in the story: music, philosophy, psychiatry, baseball, turn of the century Vienna, politics, war just to name a few. The story centers around Wheeler Burden who finds himself transported from his life in 1988 San Francisco to 1989 Vienna where he encounters many interesting and possible life-altering people. It was just a delight to read and experience.
What I learned: To fill my stories with my own passions.
“When She Woke” a dystopian novel by Hillary Jordan
When she woke, she was red.
This was a chilling read made even moreso by the current political climate. It’s an America where Roe v. Wade has been overturned, Secretary of Faith is a cabinet position and criminals are injected with a virus that dyes their skin a certain color depending on the class of their crime. Hannah Payne is at the center of this story, newly chromed red for murder, We learn how she arrived at this point in her life, watch as she struggles to find a place in this now alien world she finds herself in and as she questions the basic truths and values she was raised with. Could not put this one down.
What I learned: From the acknowledgments Jordan writes of the seed that inspired this story and it made me realize to always be on the lookout for that idea or image that really resonates in some profound way and then follow its trail with your pen.
“Once Upon a Time, There Was You” a novel by Elizabeth Berg
When John Marsh was a young boy, he used to watch hi smother getting ready to go out for the evening.
Sadie is eighteen, and more than ready to leave the nest but her mother, Irene, is less than ready and her father, John, is living far away, feeling on the periphery of his daughter’s life. John and Irene, long divorced are forced to come together in the wake of a tragedy, to support the daughter they love so much. But how do they feel about each other after so many years apart when both felt they might be making a mistake on the actual day of their wedding those many years ago? Berg does what she is best at, exploring those fragile yet indestructible ties that bind us to each other.
What I learned: I love how Berg weaves in the things she loves, like cooking, into her characters. I need to remember to draw on those things I love or know well as I write my own stories.
“How to Save a Life” a YA novel by Sara Zarr
I am writing in response to your Love Grows post from Christmas Day.
Both voices totally drew me into this story. There’s Jill whose father died less than a year ago. She is about to graduate high school, has pushed her friends and boyfriend away with her grief and now her mom has decided to adopt a baby. Mandy is a pregnant teenager, determined ot give her baby a better life than hers. Told in alternating points of view between Jill and Mandy this lovely novel explores grief, love and what it means to be a family. Loved it.
What I Learned: She really put her characters through an emotional wringer, observed them closely so that we could see them come out the other side, changed but not in any cliché way. The changes felt inevitable and true which is what I seek when I write my own stories.
“Stay Awake” stories by Dan Chaon
Gene’s son Frankie wakes up screaming.
I am a huge fan of Chaon, and especially love his stories so I was thrilled when this latest collection came out. There is a thread of sadness, both wistful and raw, that weaves through these stories. They are haunting and many of the characters themselves are haunted, by grief, loss, their past. After finishing the book, I felt like some of the sadness had seeped off the pages, lingering in the air around me, not wanting to be forgotten. These stories will not be.
What I learned: To not be afraid to let my characters be totally lost. When I feel lost as a writer maybe I need to give in to that. Let them be lost, let myself be lost. Trust that we will eventually find our way.