Wednesday, November 18, 2009
A Reader's/Writer’s Gratitude List (in alphabetical order because no way could I rank them)
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a lovely, eleven-line poem called “Pied Beauty” that begins “Glory be to God for dappled things.” The speaker goes on to offer praise for the freckled, speckled beauty in the created world. I always read this Hopkins poem during the Thanksgiving season. It reminds me to be more attentive to all that is praiseworthy in my world. While I will certainly offer thanksgiving for big things—friends, family, faith—and small ones—a single, perfect, golden leaf, the curve of a baby’s plump cheek, the sound of rain at night—I will also give thanks for bookly things, and that will include the fun of coining a word like “bookly” when it suits my purpose.
So for Thanksgiving 2009, my bookly gratitude list includes the following:
1. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
I read lots of books on the craft of writing, and I have found useful tidbits in nearly everyone I’ve read. But my favorite continues to be this book by Anne Lamott. It’s wise and funny, and Lamott’s voice makes me feel that she’s someone I’d love to have lunch with. I’m thankful she wrote this book, and I’m thankful that I have all these pithy quotations from the book that I can copy and stick all over my desk. It’s as if she knew exactly what I most needed to hear.
I worry about whether my plotting is an irredeemable flaw, and Lamott says, “Plot grows out of character…. I say don’t worry about plot. Worry about the characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are… The development of relationship creates plot.” I battle perfectionism, and Lamott says, “Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I'm sure) forget to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here - and, by extension, what we're supposed to be writing.” I wonder if writing is too important to me, and Lamott says, “Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong."
2. Books on my keeper shelves
I have a couple of thousand keepers that I have collected over the years—mysteries, poetry, women’s fiction, and literary fiction as well as lots and lots of romances. The oldest ones belonged to my mother; others date from my childhood. These are books that I return to again and again, sometimes to reread in their entirety and sometimes to reread favorite passages. They make me laugh and weep and grow and remember. They hold within their pages pieces of the person I was when I first encountered them—the ten-year-old exhilarated and terrified by the idea of growing up, the twenty-something consumed with grief and finding healing in worlds that offered happy endings, the graduate student seeking escape from the “storm and stress” of literary studies.
3. Friends Who Are Fellow Aspiring Writers
When I feel that everything I’ve written is crap, when I want to shelter my progeny from the blasts of rejection, when an agent’s blog convinces me that in the current climate publication is an unattainable dream, I have friends who zap my self-pity, cheer for my word count, challenge me to send my offspring into the world, and give me the courage to get up again when I stumble. Each shares my dream of producing a publishable novel and battles the same demons that plague me. They inspire me and sustain me. I am immeasurably grateful for them individually and collectively.
4. Friends, Newly or About-to-be Published
This year had been filled with joy and excitement as friends have shared various stages of their journey to publication and beyond. Scarcely a week has gone by that has been unmarked by squees and virtual toasts to first sales, first covers, first Amazon listing, first reviews, and first sightings in bookstores. Four times I held in my hand a book I bought at a favorite bookstore that I had been given the privilege of seeing move from drafts to finished book. My jubilation was so great that I, shy sally though I be, buttonholed total strangers and persuaded them that they owed themselves the delight offered by these books. I’m grateful for each of these experiences, and I look forward to at least five repetitions in 2010.
5. Generosity of authors
I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of established romance writers to unknowns. I’ve had emails that left me smiling foolishly at my computer screen, rendered speechless by the thoughtfulness of authors who have taken the time to praise a blog, offer to talk about my writing, or speak of my publication as a matter of when rather than if. These emails replenish my hope and determination, and inspire renewed gratitude to the authors with every rereading.
6. More contemporary romances
Probably 70% of the romance novels I read are historical. I’d love to read more contemporary romances, but except for romantic suspense and erotica—not my favorite subgenres—contemporaries have been in short supply. But this year has given me wonderful contemporary reads by long-time favorites and new voices. I’m one grateful reader.
My book budget is inadequate for the list of books I long to read, but thanks to my public library I get to read everything on my list. If I discover an OOP back title of a paperback romance that’s selling for $103 on AbeBooks.com, I can usually find a copy via my library. I have access not only to books on the shelves of my local library but to 9.6 million books on library shelves across the state,any one of which I can have delivered to my local library for me to pick up. Add to this bounty the more than 3 million volumes plus countless electronic copies available through my university library, which allows me to check out books for three months plus renewals, and the wonders of ILL and the resources are vast indeed. My gratitude is boundless.
8. Online romance community
The online romance community is huge and diverse. A quick google of the term offers 106,000 sites. I’m grateful for that larger community because it’s evidence of how large the romance umbrella is and how active romance readers are. But my greater gratitude is for my particular online community—the people I meet here at Just Janga and on the boards and other blogs I frequent, people who love the books I love (usually), read my raves and rants, make me laugh with their witty quips and bawdy humor, impress me with their intelligence and insight, and just generally make my world bigger, brighter, and better.
I’ve heard the arguments about the evils of the UBS, but I don’t buy them. I love my local UBS and I love the one in my university town even more. They make it possible for me to try new-to-me-authors upon whose books I am not yet willing to risk $, they allow me to fill in gaps in series that I start late, and the proprietors and their clerks are far more romance friendly than most of the new book venues around here. Probably half of my autobuy authors were first UBS finds. I’m so grateful they exist that the day after Thanksgiving when crowds are caught up in a shopping frenzy I plan to be leisurely wandering the aisles of mu local UBS.
10. Writers who keep writing
I’ve lost count of how many Nora Roberts books line my keeper shelves. I only know that I loved the most recent, Bed of Roses, as much as I loved the first one I read, All the Possibilities (1985). I grew misty-eyed this week as I finished To Love a Wicked Lord, knowing that it was the last Edith Layton book I’d read after more than two decades of reading her work. My Mary Balogh collection begins with A Masked Deception (1985) and ends with Seducing an Angel (2009). On shelves filled with books by Elizabeth Bevarly, Jo Beverley, Connie Brockway, Robyn Carr, Loretta Chase, Christina Dodd, Anne Gracie, Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas, Teresa Medeiros, Mary Jo Putney, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, and many others, tattered copies and shiny new covers coexist, mute testimony to my history with these authors. I love discovering new authors, and I am grateful for them; but my thanksgiving song is more fervent for those writers who after five years or ten or twenty-five are still giving me reasons to be glad I am a reader.
What about you, my reader and writer friends? What bookly things are on your gratitude list?