Anyone who knows me knows that I am opposed to the idea of New Year's resolutions. However, I am all about personal goals and challenging myself. In my house we have set a reading challenge between my fiance and me. We are challenging ourselves to read around 55 books collectively. Naturally, we hope for more, but in the basic structure of a day with work and family, sometimes it's difficult to squeeze in the reading time. Reading isn't merely a hobby of ours, but a necessity. There are numerous benefits to reading and the notion that reading is a drag is only for those who are a drag. I didn't meet my reading challenge for last year, which was low to begin with. I found myself busy with other things and didn't manage my time wisely. I forgot that the very things I needed would have been found by picking up a book—mental stimulation, stronger analytical thinking, improved focus, and most of all, stress reduction.
As a writer, it is absolute must that I read. My writing and vocabulary skills will not only improve, but I'll find the inspiration I need to write my own stories. How a writer makes me feel as a reader will only aid in reaching my goal of how I want my reader to feel. My first three books of the year have writers who have inspired me. I started off the year with the historical fiction Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. She researched Zelda's life, the untold stories, creating a plausible viewpoint from Zelda's perspective. It's written in first person, so I had the benefit of reading Zelda's internal dialogue. Her story has stayed with me and offered empathy for a woman people have claimed to have ruined her husband's life and career--if the many stories about her are even true. Did she really keep F. Scott Fitzgerald from attaining his goals as a writer? Did she really keep him up late partying and make him the raging alcolholic he was? What I gained from the novel is that she could have easily been a victim of circumstance and society. As far as I see it, F. Scott Fitgerald is responsible for his own actions—as we all are
What's currently on my typewriter is a first-person story that leans towards creative non-fiction, with some historical events. I doubted my direction of first-person, but now feel more comfortable with carrying on after reading Fowler's book. The interesting part about creative non-fiction is that it's more common that we think as many fiction writers include their own experiences and people in real life. The names are changed to protect the innocent, although "innocence" is not always the case. Whether or not you're into fiction or non, in the camp that Zelda was crazy, or that she hindered Fitzgerald's success, the book is an excellent and eye-opening read. If anything, it will make you think more about her situation from rational perspective. It's very much like the idea of reading a book before watching the movie. You get more of a backstory, the reasons for the character's behavior, and insight that the movie can't offer in 90 minutes. This novel is no different in that regard when trying to make your Zelda determination
Another great read was Dominick Dunne's autobiography/memoir, The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper. Dunne writes about his start in the Hollywood scene and the many people he met along the way. His writing feels honest and there is a sense of humility. The catch with autobiographies is that they are an account of our life as we "remember" it. Although Dunne refers to his journals that he kept along the way, it's not easy to think the same as our younger selves. Trying to rely on our memories, even with photos and journals, doesn't necessarily lend itself to an accurate event. But, Dunne puts it plainly in the title, "Recollections." What I appreciated the most is that he is overall respectful of those he writes about. He doesn't assume he knows why other's behaved as they did despite having background stories. Dunne also wasn't afraid to be a bit self-deprecating. His account of his life didn't feel exaggerated—something I am immensely aware of. Dunne's writing will affect how I share my story. I want the feeling of openness and honesty with each word, regardless of after-affects of popular opinion. Everyone around you, in your inner-circle, think they know you. They may in some form or fashion, but writing down your thoughts in the quest to be completely true will probably make them question how much they really know. I admire those who do, even if I don't agree with their decisions in life.
I recently completed Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain, a fictional memoir of Beryl Markham. Beryl was born in the UK, however moved to Kenya in 1906 when she was four years old. She became the first woman to become a licensed horse trainer in Kenya. Beryl is also the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo when she flew from Europe to North America. Although Beryl wrote her own memoir in 1942, West With The Night, McLain offers the emotion behind her story. It offers the feeling of hearing Beryl's story as it's happening, or as we imagined she was feeling at the time. Her story is inspiring for me as a woman, encouraging me to move forward with my own goals. She was determined and unafraid of society's limitations on a woman. The rights of women have come a long way since the 1920s, so it's not lost on me that my advantages are far greater than hers. If anything, there should be no excuses on my part.
This is the second novel I've read by Paula McLain. I read her historical fiction, The Paris Wife, about the life of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife. It could definitely be said I appreciate the biographical novels as that is what I seem to read the most. Hadley's story is also a remarkable one and she displayed self-sacrificing dedication to her husband and his writing. Unfortunately, her efforts were unappreciated by Hemingway at the time and he moved on to another woman, Pauline Pfeiffer. It was after three more wives and several women later that he appreciated Hadley, calling her the love of his life. Nevertheless, McLain did it again for me with Circling the Sun, drawing me in to an extraordinary woman's life, leaving me wanting to know more about them. I want a better understanding of how McLain came to her conclusions of how these women may have felt during these events in their life.
I'm about to start reading Zelda: A Biography, written by American biographer Nancy Milford. Because of Therese Ann Fowler, I truly want to know more about Zelda and if my empathy for her is justifiable. This will be my second biography by Milford, who also wrote Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize (1923) and she did so writing beautiful poetry. Needless to say, I have acquired Millay's poetry in my fascination with her life and her work—all because I picked up a book. She is also responsible for the the popular line in her Fig from Thistles: First Fig poem, "My candle burns at both ends" —an idiom that applies to me sometimes.
Aside from the inspiration I derive from reading, the increased vocabulary, and the many other benefits, I do believe I've become a bit more cultured My appreciation for poetry has expanded over this past year with both Millay and Sylvia Plath, having read their biographies and journals.. I think Oscar Wilde summed it up nicely with "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it."
Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real
I am a woman-child at heart; continuously evolving to find my place in life. I am a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I am a lover and a dreamer--an explorer and a traveler. But it's my passion for writing that allows me to explore my ingenuity. This is something that undoubtedly carries over to the many roles that make up the ever evolving woman I am.