Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fortress of Books and Solitude

Another day of interesting birthday juxtapositions, the kind that make me grateful for the writers and editors that came before me, that helped me become the reader and the writer I would be.  And let me say how grateful I am to Garrison Keillor and his website, The Writer's Almanac.  He's such a balanced counterweight to the V. S. Naipauls of the world, and unlike certain congressmen (and yes, I'm intentionally being gender non-neutral), his electronic communications always make me happy, and often inspire gratitude.

In today's post, I learn that it's the birthday of John W. Campbell, the editor "who ushered in the Golden Age of Science Fiction."  We find out "in 1937, the editor of the science fiction magazine Astounding Stories retired and hired Campbell to replace him. Campbell immediately changed the name to Astounding Science-Fiction (and later to Analog), and he transformed the magazine. He wanted to change its reputation from that of a pulp fiction publication to one based on real science."  He recruited and supported famous writers like Asimov and Heinlein. 

In addition to all the romance novels I read in high school, I also devoured science fiction.  In fact, slogging through some of those works was probably some of the finest preparation for grad school a student could have.  Less determined girls would have given up on Dune.  But I had heard so much about it that I kept going, and once I got past the first 100 pages, I was hooked and couldn't put it down.  I read everything I could get my hands on, but I particularly loved Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury.

Oh, Ray Bradbury, how I loved you!  I haven't gone back to reread the others, but I have reread Ray Bradbury, and his work holds up well.  I love science fiction for much the same reason I love poetry:  it turns my head inside out and makes me see the world in such different ways.

I didn't read many female science fiction writers as a high school girl, but I did read detective fiction that featured females; I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Trixie Belden, girl sleuth, protagonist of the first mystery novels I ever read.  Today is the birthday of one of my favorite mystery writers for grown ups, Sara Paretsky.  I haven't read a V. I. Warshawski novel in awhile, but I'm grateful to Paretsky for her insistence in creating realistic female characters.  A female who likes shoes and sex and can handle a gun.  Sounds appealing!  Maybe these times we live in call for a return to the Sara Paretskys of the fictional world.

I remember going to the Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago with a a friend back in the middle 90's.  I bought about 5 books of feminist theory.  My friend spent the same amount of money, but got a much huger stack of mysteries.  I resolved to write one.

Well, it's easy for me to develop a plot, but hard for me to write a novel that's much more than a detective interviewing various suspects.  You'd think that all those years of reading every Trixie Belden novel written, every Nancy Drew, many a Hardy Boys novel, you'd think this reading past would make mystery writing easy, but it did not for me.

Clearly I was not the most discriminating reader in my youth.  I devoured everything:  sci-fi, mysteries, romances, classics, anything at all.  I don't know how I would have made it through the boredom that was my public school experience without those books.  I'm grateful for teachers who just let me sit there reading peacefully when my work was done before everyone else's.  I'm grateful for teachers who likely noticed me reading when I should have been listening to their lectures but decided to leave me alone.  I'm grateful to librarians who let me escape the chaos of the cafeteria by slipping into the library and reading.

Let me also stress that I'm grateful to the humans throughout my life who forced me to leave my fortress of books and solitude, who breached my defenses and befriended me.  Much as I love Trixie Belden and the ones that came after her, real human friends are better.  Most days.

Happily, I don't have to choose.  I can enjoy the friends who are characters in books, and they'll wait patiently for my return from my flesh and blood friends.

These days, my larger issue is feeling like I don't have time enough for either.  Gone are the days that I can neglect the work I should be doing for the reading that I'd prefer to be doing.  Ah, for those lost days of summer, with a stack of books.  Ah, for those lost days of high school, with friends at the Pizza Hut on the Hill and aimless driving in my parents' Monte Carlo.

Thirty years from now, will I look back fondly and say, "Ah, for those days of endless meetings and writing reports that few will read!"?  Hard to imagine.  Of course, if we could travel back in time to talk to High School Kristin, she wouldn't believe that she was nostalgic for high school, an institution which provoked equal measures of boredom and dread, shot through with terror.

I shudder to think how many institutions inspire similar feelings.  But that's a subject for a different day--it's time to start thinking about work.


Chum said...

I'm still spending (too much) money on mysteries and pining for those drives and conversations at the Pizza Hut.

Kristin said...

A long drive with you and a pizza would be such a wonderful thing! Ah, our wayward youth . . . how I miss it!