Friday, January 30, 2009

The Age at Which We Read, cont.

And the winner is . . .

We want to thank all of you who shared your best-friend stories with us. Good friends make life so much sweeter. The winner of our very first giveaway here at Novel Matters is Carla Gade. Thank you, Carla, for being willing to be so transparent. Would you be so kind as to email me here at Novel Matters with your mailing address? You can reach me through the Contacts page.

And then there were six . . .

You might have noticed that Jennifer Valent's lovely photograph is missing from our sidebar. Well, that's because Jennifer has resigned her position here at Novel Matters. Her incredible debut novel, Fireflies in December, was just released, and with the responsibilities of promoting it along with writing the sequel, and keeping her other blog and website current, Jennifer is one busy lady. We wish her great success with her book. To keep up with Jennifer, visit her website http://www.jennifervalent.com/

Now back to The Age at Which We Read . . .

I first read Carson McCullers' amazing debut novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, my junior year of high school, having come through a painful year of upheaval my sophomore year. My lit teacher was a newly-credentialed, nice-looking guy barely older than the students he taught. With him at the head of the class I think we girls could have found the likes of Gunga Din romantic. But the Heart is a Lonely Hunter genuinely was romantic to me, maybe because I so deeply related to young Mick Kelly, a girl whose life was so not what she wanted it to be. The story has stayed with me all these years, as vivid as any of my most poignant memories.

But some months back, having come through another painful year of upheaval, my husband (who was not familiar with the story) and I listened to the audio version of the book on a long road trip. Four decades of living between my two encounters with the story had knocked off the romantic edge, and this time I saw -- with such clarity and compassion -- the deep pain of the central character, John Singer, and how impossible his life became in trying to carry the burdens that everyone brought to him.

Had I read or listened to the book for the first time at this stage of my life I don't think I would even recommend it to another reader, only because of how desperately sad the story is. But I do love it still, and one of the reasons I can say that is because, regardless of all I've been through in the intervening years, I don't live in that place of hopelessness any more.

"Words are things; and a small drop of ink falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think." Lord Byron

12 comments:

Latayne C Scott said...

What a lovely thought, dear Sharon, to not "live in that place of hopelessness any more." Having read your books, I can say that you have been able through your writing to help others escape from their personal places of hopelessness.

What a worthy goal for us all....

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

It's interesting what we glean from novels that the author possibly never intended, even truth about the nature of God. Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "There is nothing so secular that it cannot be made sacred..." and this happened for me when I read "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." I don't know the author's religious beliefs, but in reading about John Singer, I realized that we sometimes project our assumptions about the nature of God onto Him, based on our own perceptions and not necessarily truth. Everyone who came to John Singer projected what they needed him to be onto him, without ever really knowing him. Instead of discovering the true nature of God, we sometimes make Him into our image or into what we need Him to be. In this way, I feel that God used the story (regardless of the author's intention) to reveal something I needed to see.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I would like to add that I only recently read this novel, but if I had read it in college (wow-years ago!) I don't believe I would have been in a place of openness to 'hear' this.

Kathleen Popa said...

I can see that this blog is going to add exponentially to my already leaning pile of books to read. Ah well. Add The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and duck.

Brenna said...

I remember when I first read C. Bronte's Jane Eyre, for a Victorian lit class in college. I could relate to Jane on so many levels. I was absorbed by that novel. There were times when I really felt that I was Jane. That unspoken passion that she had. I don't know how many times I've re-read that book since then. It doesn't read the same, though. There was an innocence to it the first time. After that, it's just been a wonderfully, well-written classic.

"I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself." (Chapter 27)

I suppose I was a bit too serious in college! :)

Sharon K. Souza said...

Brenna, you bring up a good point about how the best novels draw us into the life of the protagonist. I love feeling myself get inside a character -- those I read about and those I write about.

I agree that the real magic of a journey through a book can only be experienced once. Once you've traversed the pages, you might enjoy revisiting them, might even see more than you saw the first time, but the wonder is still replaced with the familiar.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I might be weird, but over the years I have re-read The Fellowship of the Ring in autumn, just to revisit the story and the characters all over again. I often didn't make it past the point where the fellowship began their quest, and I agree with you ladies, I never experienced the story again quite the same way as the first time.

Steve G said...

I read in chunks. In college there were people reading Watership Down and LOTR, and I opted for Paretti and eventually into the Star Wars Universe. Over the years I attemped The Hobbit 5 or 6 times but could only go so far. I haven't analyzed what that point waas, but I finally got past it a few years ago and then I was off, reading the Hobbit and the Trilogy in a week or two. When I get into a book I tend to put evrything else on minimal mode and spend evry extra minute "borrowed" on the book until it is done.

As to what Sharon sais about the first time being a charm, There are some books that hit me on an emotional level, and they will do that again and again. In paretti's second book there is a scene where the female character gives up and surrenders to Jesus with angels all around her. It is as powerful each time I read it. A passage like that will make it into a sermon, too.

Is that because it is literary or emotional? I think one big aspect of more "literary" works (can I use the "L" word on here???) is they tug at deep emotions, broader thems of human kind and don't just stay in the personal emotion.

There has only been one book that "creeped" me out, and it only did it the first time I read it. It was by Kathy Tyers, a Christian author writing in the Star Wars universe, The Truce at Bakura.

Word verification - ungspro: A speech pathologist who has no tongue...

Steve G said...

Let me explain a bit further - "literary" works pull at deeper elements of humanity and so come at our personal emotions through the back door. As we read a book like this it causes questions to arise that look more at who we are in the universe, in the realm of humanity; the aftertaste having a hint of emotional lingering. A literary work still has an emotional impact, but it comes later in the process and in a deeper place. It is the protein of our diet, where popular fiction is more like the sugar rush of carbohydrates... that's why I read Star Wars, I need another cube of sugar.

Wprd verification - orsergu: Orson Well's favourite spaghetti sauce

Sharon K. Souza said...

Excellent observations, Steve. I love your take on how literary works (yes, you can use the L word here) affect us differently than popular fiction, protein vs. carbohydrates. You can't have an exclusive diet of either to have a healthy body, and I think the same holds true with fiction, so I enjoy a combination of both. But oh how I love the time spent in a literary novel. Love how the experience lingers. With a carb-type novel I close the last page and head to the bookcase to see what's next. But with a literary novel, I close the last page and hold the book close, not ready to let it go, like good chocolate melting on my tongue. I'm not eager to replace that "taste" with anything else for a while.

Yes, I too have re-read books that have impacted me as emotionally the second or third time around as they did the first. But I hold to my case, the element of surprise can never be replicated when you walk familiar ground.

And I love your word verifications!

Anonymous said...

Sharon,
You have such a way with words. I aspire to do half as well. I pray that the story I'm working on now will touch hearts the way your writing does. I loved your last reading at Hilmar Writers' Group.
Liz

Sharon K. Souza said...

Liz, thank you for such a nice comment. While the genres in which we write are very different, I love the way you use words. I feel sometimes like I'm the one playing Chopsticks while the rest of you are playing Chopin.