Monday, March 16, 2009

My Literary Influences, Part I

Randal tagged me with this meme. As I was reading his post, so artfully done, and all Frenchified, I thought it was brilliant. I thought if was fascinating, until I got to the very end, and saw my name at the end of it along with Beach, and some other poor blogger. I'll go back and look to see who else was tasked with this monster of a meme. I say "monster" because I did not write as a child. If that were the case, this would be one very short list. And even when I was taking all those bizzillions of Literature classes in various colleges, I still wasn't writing anything other than papers. I didn't actually start writing until I left my third husband, the writer. And by then there were thousands of books I could honestly say had an influence on my writing. And the older I get the farther back in my memory bank I must go to find the books that sent me on my way, armed with the need and the confidence to write. Truth be told, I still don't have a lot of confidence that I can write. Now I just write, for good or ill, I write.

Any of you who read the first hundred pages or so of my novel, know that I had a very strange childhood. I won't get into that here, but it did have a big influence on what I read, and my reaction to my reading.

Once past my Dick and Jane reader, I took to the reading life with a passion. I'm not sure how these books found their way into my hands--maybe at my Grandparent's cabin, or while spending boring Sundays at my Grandparent's house. But the first books I remember reading were "children's" books, but probably a bit too advanced for my young skills--this might account for my reading them over and over. First was Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson. I can still work up some tears when I think of that faithful friend and protector. The second of the children's books was The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnen Rawlings.

These two children's books were so emotionally powerful for me that I read them over and over. And it was with my experience of great sobbing emotional catharsis come to by reading that I developed a critical eye to the making of movies from very good books. Neither movie was as good for me as the books. It wasn't satisfying to find my imagination's involvement with characters and place were at odds with the film maker's interpretation of my beloved book. It is a criticism that has only been reinforced over and over. While reading a book, I could escape my own dreadful reality, but savor another's life and experience, hate another's parents. You can see where this is going I'm sure, and I could probably end this right here. But I take these memes very seriously.

It was during one of our last years in small town Oregon, while my dad had his high school teaching misadventures, that I overheard parents talking about two books. They were the play The Children's Hour, and the novel The Bad Seed. Neither book was appropriate for a ten year old, but that never stopped me. My dad had been fired from his first high school teaching job because of something I had said to a girlfriend of mine, which she reported to her older sisters and mother, and I got in a lot of trouble and he got fired.

We spent my 12th Spring and Summer back in Salt Lake living at my grandmother's farm. She had a library there and during that summer I read The Birds and other stories of Daphne du Maurier, and the several of the novels of W Somerset Maugham, and in this time a trend in my reading was established. Read writers, not books.

I read Nabokov's brilliant Great American Novel, Lolita when I was 12. Though this was highly inappropriate, and a book far beyond my childish understanding, I did get it. Oh, I misread a word like loins for lions, but it didn't harm the prose or the meaning for me. We had friends who smuggled the book into the country from France. The book had been banned in Boston, which increased tourist revenue for France, and guaranteed Lolita's success in the good old puritanical USA. And the fact that I heard all the adults in my parent's circle talking about it, made me determined to find the hidden book and read it. I have by now probably read it twenty times.

At twelve I fell for my first big crush. I thought it was a great deal more than just a crush. At twelve I looked at least my 16 year old boy friend's age, so before he knew exactly how old I was, he took me seriously and we traded reading suggestions. He'd read the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. I caught up fast. Then Dickens. Oh yes, I could relate to Dickens' children. I could relate to Hardy's Bathsheba, and then Tess. I could see myself as Cathy with her doomed and tragic love for Heathcliff. And these books lead to an obsession with literature with a capital L.

Then I began reading as if I were gorging on literature. And I guess I was. I did read so gluttonously that I had always already read the books required in school. I gobbled all the great Southern Writers, from Faulkner to Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers. I found a writer I loved and then read everything I could get my hands on, which often led me to another writer of the era and area. I noticed the major themes, the common local. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, led me to Truman Capote, who led me to Tennessee Williams and so on. You can see how this goes.

Read one great Russian writer, read them all--From Dostoevsky to Bulgakov. France from Sarte, to Celine, to Leduc and Genet and more. I move across the world gobbling writers. It is a wonder I had time to marry, travel, to mate again, to work and earn a living, to take classes whenever I could since I had Proust, and Flaubert, and then Hermann Hesse, and Gunter Grass and Thomas Mann.

Whew! I am now in my late twenties, and though I haven't listed all the authors I'd plowed through by then, I plan to continue this at another time, since we need not know just what one read to get to one's writing style and content, we need to see it develop. But I have the start here, the background, the technique of reading all of one author before moving on. Now I have to take a break or I will go to Cincinnati and throttle Randal Graves.


Comrade Kevin said...

Like you, I was a voracious reader, but southern literature usually bored me to tears. What did help is that it was constantly lifted up as some kind of regional virtue by teachers, librarians, and the like.

The southern agrarian writers wrote about a region which bore absolutely no resemblance to the suburban boredom that characterizes my childhood and adolescence. It no longer existed, for the most part, and its narrow emphasis on the same basic themes made me feel exasperated.

I've read so much these days that it's tough for me to delineate periods of my life and what I read at what point--I opened my mind up to lots of different styles, writers, and genres.

I have so many influences that it's difficult to point out precisely who I should credit for what I write---I think that's best, because the more influences one incorporates, the more original a writer one is.

Dave Dubya said...

And I thought I was fairly well read...

Back to the comic book store for me.

Utah Savage said...

Comrade, I think of myself as a southern writer. I swear I write with a southern accent and when I read certain portions of the novel or short stories, I read them aloud with a southern accent. I loved Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers. I think "Ballad of the Sad Cafe" is one of the best novels ever written. She posits that the are alway two opposing elements in a romantic relationship, and this gives all romantic relationships their drama--there is the lover and there is the beloved. They are never in sync and they may shift back and forth over a lifetime. It has been so in my life and therein lies the drama, the tragic qualities of so many love stories. Its push and its pull. One always loves more than the other, or one is always loved more by the other and it is something to resist, or run from.

Hi Dave. I just may tag you with this one since you claim to read so little. I'm calling bullshit right now. You're on.

Beach Bum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beach Bum said...

As I wrote in my post I agree with Kevin, the South these days is a theme park. While the good small town aspects still exist they are largely dead and were they do still hang on urban sprawl is quickly smothering it.

Liberality said...

When a kid comes into the library and they are seriously wanting to read my heart always does a little flip with joy. Very interesting your choices, a great list.

Utah Savage said...

You know, Lib, my passion for reading and my encyclopedic knowledge of the dewey decimal system made me a great reference librarian for a too brief period in the Salt Lake County Library System. I had no credentials other than my life of reading and getting much of my reading material from the library. I was so good as a reference librarian they gave me a big administrative job in fundraising. I got promoted to assistant to the Director of Marketing and Development. I discovered an enormous scam, and all kinds of evidence of fraud, and got fired for my trouble. I gave all my info to a reporter and they eventually cleaned house. I should maybe make this into a story. It has potential. Never mind.

darkblack said...



susan said...

I'm still considering the challenges of 'The Glass Bead Game'.

Utah Savage said...

I'm currently mired in The Shock Doctrine.

Utah Savage said...

I read the Glass Bead Game when it was titled Magister Ludi, I think. By the time I read it I had Read Hesse so much and so often he began to bore me. Everything distilled to dark and light and the obvious metaphors for the life of the mind or the life of the heart/loins. Emotion or intellect. In the end Hesse became no more interesting than Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which is making a comeback. Smart=rich=good versus the dumb=lazy=bad. Ayn Rand wasn't as good a writer as Hesse, so the beauty or complexity of the prose made Hesse a more pleasurable read in small doses. My favorite like most of my generation was probably Steppenwolf.

MRMacrum said...

Anyone who has been a reader their whole life would have trouble I think stopping at 100 authors who have had their influence. I kept it simple and picked the first 25 that floated to the top. As soon as I was done, I began to re-think and immediately many more began raising their hands and getting their nose out of joint when I told em they were too late for this parade.

Intersting group of authors there. Much better rounded selection than my choices.

Lisa said...

Oh my. I'm so not well read anymore. I used to read a lot, but not anymore, dang it.

I love it that you really took off with your love of books as a child. I hope that I've passed that on to my kids, but I'm not sure I've done a good job of showing how books compete with electronics. Especially lately.

Randal Graves said...

Please, go to Cincinnati for throttling. I shall be safe up in Cleveland.

Now I feel like reading. I don't have a bunch of these, I'm coming over to steal your copies.

Utah Savage said...

Well, Randal that was just a trick, I'm almost to Cleveland.

That was just the first 30 years. Someday when I'm really bored and trying to exercise my mind I got through the second half of my life.