Books as Friends

Books as Friends

Visit Lindsay Edmunds at Writers Rest

I think of the relationship between a book and a reader like a key and a lock. Some books (e.g., the Harry Potter series) have keys that opens a great many locks. Other books have elaborate, mysterious keys that open fewer locks, but readers who meet such books often feel themselves very lucky. Maybe they waited for years for such a key. The books in my life fall into four categories:

1. Strangers at an airport—In other words, hello and goodbye.

2. The life of the party—These books come on like someone you meet at a party who spouts brilliance all night long, except the next morning you have forgotten everything they said, and not because you had too much to drink. For me, Ready Player One is in that group. I loved it; in fact, gave it a 5-star review. But I can recall absolutely nothing about it. Everyone has books like that.

3. Nannies—These are the comfortable books, the cozies, the soporifics. They take me out of your everyday world without demanding anything of me. These faithful servants serve me well.

4. Friends—The books can be nannies (see category 3), but they are always more than that, too. They qualify as the deeps of my reading experience. They unlock me. They  punch through on a deep level.  I am in sync with them. I might not read them for years, but when I open them again, they often show me something new. They have flaws. I don’t care.

I dedicated my latest book, New Sun Rising: Ten Stories, to the memory of four authors who have given me quite a few books in category 4. They are Shirley Jackson, Evan S. Connell, Russell Hoban, and Ray Bradbury.

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson famously wrote the short story, “The Lottery,” for which she got hate mail for the her whole life. Not surprising, because the story nails hate to the page and shines a brilliant light on it.

She wrote my all-time favorite books about family life: Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, fictionalized accounts of her home life with four children. She wrote a haunted house novel, The Haunting of Hill House, and an apocalyptic novel, The Sundial. She wrote a great many short stories for money, creatively at about half power, but when you are a fan of an author, you don’t think in terms of perfection (which doesn’t exist anyway).

When I read Jackson’s books, they stayed read. I don’t know a higher compliment for a writer than that.

Evan S. Connell

Evan S. Connell had a hit in the 1980s in with Son of the Morning Star, a brilliant and unsparing look at the Little Bighorn massacre of Custer and his troops. Before that, he produced two masterpieces of mid-20th century realism, Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, as well as other books and stories.

How great are Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge? Here is how great: they have no plots (no, none at all). Both fail utterly on the basis of what a novel should do. Yet they work.

Every character has two lives: Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, their children, their maid and their laundress, their friends and their acquaintances.  Connell is adept at this kind of double-tracking.

He has a painter’s sensibility. Each chapter resembles a still life, or a piece of the puzzle that is human character honestly considered.

Russell Hoban

Russell Hoban, an American expatriate writer who lived in London from the mid-1970s until his death in 2011, is an acquired taste I am happy to have acquired. He was a successful children’s author and illustrator (best known for the Frances series) before switching to adult novels when he moved to London. I bought a used copy of his “gateway” novel Turtle Diary from a Bethesda, Maryland, bookstore in the 1980s and that was it.

Here is what to do for a writer whose books are your friends: every year on his birthday, leave a quotation from one of his books in a public place, to be randomly discovered by a stranger. I’ve been part of a group called the Kraken who has done that for Hoban for years.

Ray Bradbury

The term “YA” didn’t exist when Ray Bradbury wrote Something Wicked This Way Comes  in 1962, but the book is a YA classic. When I re-read it last year, I found that I was not too old for it. I loved its freshness and enthusiasm. Also, Bradbury is a better writer than I remembered.

This book’s descriptions come at you at high speed. Bradbury doesn’t choose among his figures of speech. He chooses all.

He can lay back, as in the opening sentence: “The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.” He can, but he usually doesn’t. For example:

At dawn, a juggernaut of thunder wheeled over the stony heavens in a spark-throwing tumult. Rain fell softly on town cupolas, chucked from rainspouts, and spoke in strange subterranean tongues beneath the windows where Jim and Will knew fitful dreams, slipping out of one, trying another for size, but finding all cut from the same dark, mouldered cloth.

Bradbury’s  over-the-top descriptions work because they are over the top. If Bradbury had held back, Something Wicked would have lost the passionate intensity that makes it stay with me. It might read more easily, but  it would be a shadow of itself. There would be no reason to look back as an adult and say, “I remember.”

Friends for Life

Have you noticed how the books you loved as a child stay with you?  For example, The Golden Treasury of Poetry still means something to me. I can’t imagine any book of poetry for children being better than it is.

In 2010, I blogged about Childhood Books.

Visit Lindsay Edmunds Childhood Books

What books are friends to you, and why?

You can find more of Lindsay's work by visiting her link below or by scrolling down to her Readers Gazette details below :-
Visit Lindsay Edmunds at Writers Rest

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I think of the relationship between a book and a reader like a key and a lock. Some books (e.g., the Harry Potter series) have keys that opens a great many locks. Other books have elaborate, mysterious keys that open...

New Sun Rising: Ten Stories by Lindsay Edmunds

These are linked stories, in the spirit of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. They are about a sixteen-year old girl, Kedzie Greer, who was raised in a utopian community and leaves home to make her way in a dystopian society. The year is 2199; the place, the Reunited States. In the stories, technology coexists with a haunted world. There are witches and robots, ghosts and e-beasts.
New Sun Rising is magical realism for the internet age.

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