Thursday, May 13, 2010

Words That Move You

I had the honor of hearing Jhumpa Lahiri speak Tuesday night. She is one of my favorite authors; I love both her short story collections and her novel The Namesake. She spoke through the Cuyahoga County Library Writer’s series, so the majority of her conversation was about writing. The number one piece of advice that she gave to writers was to be a reader. She stressed how important it was to read and read with a never-ending appetite. I’ve been a huge reader my entire life, so I can’t argue with Jhumpa. However, lately my book diet hasn’t been entirely agreeing with me.

I get very emotionally attached to the books the I read. It gets so bad sometimes that I feel like I take on my character’s moods. If a book is funny and upbeat, my mood can reflect that. If a book is serious and thought provoking, I become very pensive. However, if I book is depressing, it can often bring me down. I don’t find this a fault in my reading or way to approaching a novel, in fact, I look at it as an element of good writing. If an author can get me to connect so much to my characters that I feel their emotions, I think that they’re pretty amazing.

The problem is that during the last few weeks I’ve had to stop reading two books that were affecting me too much. I’m not abandoning these books, but I had to step away from them for awhile and put a little distance between the words and the way I was connecting to them. Has that ever happened to you?

The two books were Jenny Downhan’s Before I Die and Dave Cullen’s Columbine. Don’t get me wrong, both books are amazing. They’re well written and moving, and I’ve read at least a hundred pages in each. However, perhaps they are too moving. The subject matter of each is dark and I had a hard time coming back to the words without letting them affect me. I have no doubt that I will complete both of these books, but not right now. I need to put a little distance between the subject matter and my emotions before I can come back to them.

Writing is a lot like this also. There were scenes I wrote in Canary that physical drained me. Scenes that broke my heart and made me cry while I was writing them. I made choices for my characters that I didn’t want to, but the story was leading me to. I carried these choices around with me for days, feeling awful about what I had to put my characters through. There were even times when I had to close the computer for a time before I could come back to it.

Reading and writing isn’t always easy or happy. Characters die. Characters hurt. Characters experience life in ways that we never hope to do. However, there is always the chance for redemption and salvation. Characters, like human, move on from their experiences and grow stronger. I believe readers and writers are the same. The written world takes us on a journey and while the journey may not always be pleasant, I hope to walk away from a book or my computer changed in a way.

Words are meant to move us and make us think, and I strive every day to be able to do that for my reader.

What books have you read that move you?

What books have you read that were hard to experience?


Kristan said...

LUCKY by Alice Sebold was extremely tough for me -- I almost passed out in one part! But it was also extremely well written, so I didn't put it down for too long.

Like you, I am very moved by books (particularly to tears... or tingles of happiness if there's a really romantic scene that grabs me) and I love that. That's what I want to recreate in my writing, you know?

Oh, and I also adore Jhumpa Lahiri!

Rachele Alpine said...

Kristan...I agree about "Lucky." That was a tough book. So was her last book "The Almost Moon" I put it down a few times.

Jhumpa Lahiri was amazing! I was so excited when I saw she was coming. They announced next season's writers too and Jeanette Walls (The Glass Castle) and Dave Eggers (Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius). I can't wait to hear the two of them speak. If you haven't read "The Glass Castle," you must. It's one of my favorite nonfiction books.

Amy Stavar said...

I love Jhumpa Lahiri too. I got an e-mail yesterday telling me that Jeanette Walls is coming, and I can't wait to go. I think we are going to try to take students.

There are some books whose words move me so much that I come back to them again and again. Reading them is like entering into a conversation with an old friend, and I return to them for comfort or advice. John Irving is an author whose books I revist regularly.

Talli Roland said...

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver was one I found very hard to read, but I just couldn't put it down. Funny how books can have such an effect on us.

Elana Johnson said...

Ah, yes. Great questions. I want the books I read to move me in some way. And often those are the books that are hard to experience too.

This year, I've read two:
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott


Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers.

Haunting, yet hard to look away from at the same time.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, no question - SUZANNE'S DIARY FOR NICHOLAS by James Patterson.

That book ripped my heart out. So of course, I gave one to all of my closest friends! LOL! :-)

Rachele Alpine said...

Oh...I just thought of another one..."Tuesdays with Morrie." I read it for the first time on a plane ride home from Japan. I was alone on the flight and sobbed through the whole book. People must of thought I was nuts! But what an incredible book.

Shannon said...

I am affected the same way with books (movies and tv shows, too), and have to be careful on what I allow into my diet.

The Lovely Bones is the last book I read and yep, it affected me.

Jen said...

What a fantastic post!!!

Books that were hard to experience would be "If I am missing or dead" by Janine Latus. It was a true story about two sisters who were in abusive relationships and obviously looking at the title you know it wasn't an easy read!!! Well worth it but it hits you hard and you have to finish it quickly to get the awful pictures out of your head.