Friday, April 24, 2009

Top Five

I've been reading lots of writing books lately, seeing similar examples of well-judged writing over and over, most of which are excerpted from works I haven't yet read. Touchstone fiction, the examples that you turn to when you're looking for an example in a conversation or when you're looking for something to review to remember what lured you into reading and then writing and then, possibly, teaching. Having taking a different path, my top five, the books that I turn to when I'm sick or anxious or want to take a vacation back into their certainities, don't appear in the examples.

How did I get here? To this stew of writing and working and caring for the dichotomous dogs of attention and sleep? The signposts at which I turned are:

1. The Hobbit. My dad kept a stash of books in a chipped white chest of drawers in the laundry room--the Xanth novels, the Hoka novels--books that were not for the kids to read. There was a barrel-riding hobbit in the middle of grey river on the cover of this one, and it was the first one that he let me read.

2. The Lord of the Rings. Afternoon, morning, weekend, on and on, resting on my bed under my window and trying to osmose the loyalty, faith, and inborn nobility of the characters, not to mention learn how to be as creative and unworldly as the elves. Again, it was the pale covers and the archaic world that entranced me initially.

3. Gaudy Night. Mom gave me this fascination with the British detective novel. Although some of them became series in which repetive descriptions dulled the experience, Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey books didn't. I've purchased more than one copy of this book as the re-reading gradually results in missing covers and pages missing triangles from their upper corners.

4. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Lucy's tea in the middle of a winter forest was just as entrancing to a Texas girl as the story itself.

5. This last space is reserved for a book that I read as a child, but the name of which I've forgotten. I remember the story had a moon-faced witch who's cat was lost and the witch and a girl looked for the cat underground, in the tunnels of gnomes and in, I believe, pirate galleys. When they found the cat, she had slipped away to have kittens, one of which the girl was able to have to care for. The illustrations, washes of color that seemed as if the book itself dreamed them, are the reason that it takes this place. That and the prosaic need of the cat as contrasted to the vivid fantasy of the search for her.

What signposts beguiled you?

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