Monday, February 8, 2010

Being a Keeper

Today's post comes from Marybeth Whalen Director of S
he Reads. Novel Matters and She Reads have partnered to create a bridge between readers and writers in order to create a community built around the love for books. We encourage you to have a look at the She Reads site and join in the discussion! Here is some information about this wonderful organization.

She Reads exists to honor Christ by connecting readers with novels that:

  • inspire through excellent writing
  • explore deep issues of faith
  • initiate change in the reader’s life

Each month, the She Reads book club will offer a current title as featured selections. Readers have vast differences in taste and for this reason diverse genres and authors will be chosen.

Why should I join She Reads?

Readers who join She Reads receive a number of benefits, including:

  • Connection with other readers on the She Reads blog who are passionate about great fiction and uplifting stories.
  • Information via the She Reads newsletter that will keep readers up to date on their favorite authors, and books, with a few surprises thrown in for fun.
  • Reviews of newly released titles written by a variety of readers, writers, and industry professionals.
  • Options to create a She Reads book club or bring an existing club under the She Reads umbrella.
  • Relationships developed within the intimate setting of a regular book club meeting.
  • Fun planned study guides with activities and interesting facts developed specifically for the She Reads book club.
  • Online Community for those who can’t participate in a monthly meeting (or don’t live near an existing club), via the She Reads blog and Facebook group.
  • Pre-selected novels they can trust and appreciate – an important aspect in today’s economy where every buying decision requires a second thought.
  • Access to authors they love through print interviews, meet and greets, conference calls, etc. Each selected author will participate in two conference calls with the first 100 guests (per call) who sign up. This will be a free service and a chance for readers to have their questions answered by the authors themselves!
  • Free books from time to time via contests, giveaways, and publisher promotions.
Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up
its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors.
~ Joseph Addison ~
There are books that we keep and books that we donate. What makes the difference? And why does it matter to us as writers?

I thought of this recently as I made my weekly visit to the library. I passed books on the shelf that I had read and loved and smiled at them like old friends. I watched a woman picked up a book that had been a favorite of mine and, on impulse, I recommended it to her. "That's a great one," I offered. "A good choice."

She looked at me with narrowed eyes as though trying to remember when she had asked my opinion. I grinned and continued with my search for a book that would inspire that same kind of passion in me. I did not look back to see if she took my advice and checked out the book I recommended.

As a writer, I want to write the books that people keep. Once I borrowed a copy of
Gift From The Sea from a friend. I remember just as I was about to walk out with it my friend stopped me. "Hang on!" she said. "I want to write my name in it so I can be sure to get it back. This one's a book I want to keep." She paused. "It's special to me."

Isn't that every writer's longing? To write a book that readers want to keep, if for nothing else than to know it's there, to smile at it on their shelf? So what does a keeper look like? I thought of the books I have kept. In spite of my ever-shrinking shelf space they earned a permanent spot. These books are:

Moving. The book moved me emotionally. I connected with the plot, the premise, the outcome. I wanted to keep it because I wanted to preserve the connection.

Memorable Characters. I have spent time with these characters and loved them. When the book ends, I find myself wondering how they're doing. I wanted to keep the book because I wanted the characters close by.

Makes you think. Whether it's a surprise ending or a moral dilemma the character faced, the book kept me enthralled and made me ponder life from a different angle or made me dig deeper into some of my own beliefs. I wanted to keep it because it earned my respect.

Masterful writing. When I read the book I caught myself going back to re-read certain sentences or paragraphs because the writing was just that good. I wanted to keep the book because the writer created an amazing work.

Motivates me to be a better writer. When I closed the book I thought to myself, "I wish I had written that book... or thought of that premise... or created those plot twists, etc." Reading good writing inspires really good writing. I kept the book because I want good writing close at hand.

My co-director at She Reads, Ariel Allison Lawhon says, "The beautiful thing is that every writer can control the elements that make a book a keeper. We can't control marketing or promotion or cover design or even the title. But we can write really good books." The next time you are thinking about your novel, don't think about getting published or the brand or the title or anything else. Think instead about the books you have kept and how you can write a book that is a keeper.

Ariel and I thought we'd make a brief list of the books we consider keepers. We would love for you to share yours!

Ariel's list: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Kathryn Stockett's The Help, Keeper Of The Bees by Jean Stratton Porter, anything by George MacDonald or C.S. Lewis, and all of the She Reads selections,

Marybeths' list: all the She Reads picks, Kathleen McCleary's House And Home, Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy (the book that cemented my desire to be a writer), all of Lee Smith's titles, Susan Meissner's Blue Heart Blessed, Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos, The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Which books are on your Keeper List? What makes them stand out to you?


Carla Gade said...

I want to write a keeper! Thanks for the great post.


Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I wholeheartedly agree with 'The Time Traveler's Wife' and 'Water for Elephants,' and I would add (excluding classics) 'Peace Like a River' and 'Shadow of the Wind.' Thanks for the great post, Marybeth.

Patti Hill said...

I just donated 3 large boxes of books to our hospice store, so I wish I would have read your blog before culling through my books. Funny, I used the same measures.

Here are some of the books I've kept that I haven't seen mentioned yet:
The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas, The Passion of Mary Margaret by Lisa Samson, and The Thing We Keep by Elizabeth Berg, even though I didn't like the ending. I can't wait to see everyone's lists.

Bonnie Grove said...

I've kept all of Susan Isaac's books. Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Shape of Mercy by Susan Messiner, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, Gilead and Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson (her latest is on order), a couple of Kate Jacobs' titles, Lost Mission by Athol Dickson (his latest - which to me, is him finally coming into his own as a writer), Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan.

These books gripped me, transported me. I believed them and would miss them if they didn't live at my house anymore. :)

Amy Sorrells said...

Just read The Help this weekend. Sobbed as I shut the cover. Can't stop thinking about Minny & Aibileen & Skeeter & I wish I could set them all up for lunch at my house this minute. Now THAT's a keeper, to me. I have too many others to post, and many of them ya'll have already mentioned. Thanks for this inspiring post!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I definitely want to write one!

My contribution: Anything by Charles Martin, particularly "When Crickets Cry".

Unknown said...

Wonderful post. Thank you. The heart of it, for me, was the title -- Being a Keeper. All of the authors mentioned in the post and in the comments with whom I am familiar, were/are keepers themselves. Their devotion to their craft and the way that their writing ennobles readers demonstrates their character.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Patti, sometime I'd like to know why you didn't like the ending of 'What We Keep". I loved it, too.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh, I just want to hang out on this blog all day. I agree with all of those reasons to why a book is a keeper. I want my books to be keepers and I want to be a keeper of books. I want to support fellow authors.

I loved the books on both of those lists...I'll add: The Poisonwood Bible, I Know This Much is True, Angela's Ashes, Peace Like a River, Someone Knows My Name, anything by Elizabeth Berg or Jodi Picoult...loved Beach Music. I've entered dangerous territory...naming books I love...this could go on for awhile. ;D

Thanks for the fun thoughts!
~ Wendy

Nikole Hahn said...

Suffer A Sea Change was a great book. I keep it and reread it even though the pages are falling out and the book binding is fraying. The story is beautiful.

Nikole Hahn said...

Suffer A Sea Change was a great book. I keep it and reread it even though the pages are falling out and the book binding is fraying. The story is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I love this post, Marybeth. I too am jealous of the "keeper" space on my bookshelves and give away far more books than I keep. Keepers are books I know I'll read more than once, and are books that entice me to contact the author. "Blue Hole Back Home" tops my list of keepers these days. Besides the classics (Dickens is my favorite), I love everything Jamie Langston Turner writes. "Havah" by Tosca Lee is an incredible book, and I really like the Jodi Picoult books I've read. "The Book Thief" can be difficult to get through, but it's quite a story. I'm adding to my To-Be-Read list from the comments.

Steve G said...

I am partial to Talking to the Dead and Time and Time Again by Bonnie Grove (I have a full page, personal author's comment in Talking that I'll keep forever).

As a pastor I have a whack of non-fiction and resource books I keep obviously, but you don't care about that - you care about fiction. I keep series to begin with: a lot by Feist, Cussler, Lawhead, Asimov, Francine Rivers, Barabara Kingsolver, and Eddings; and the Star Wars universe. Oh, and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes). Will I go back and read them? I may someday, but there's a collector in me that wants those ones. I have kept Peretti's 2 Piercing/Present Darkness books. I have a number of classics (and early editions of books like Bambi, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland). I think if I lived a different life, I might have grown up to be a Toy Inventor, or just a Craftsman that focused on wooden or metal toys.

My Keepers have heroes and almost always happy endings.

Word verification - urtickly: What Heather says if i haven't shaved for a day or two.

Kathleen Popa said...

I too recently finished The Help. Oh my yes, it goes on my keeper shelf. And yes, I did cry. And thought of all a novel can accomplish, if it's written well.

carla stewart said...

All of these responses makes me want to kick my schedule out the door and grab one of the "keepers" off my shelf. Many of mine y'all have mentioned. The Poisonwood Bible, The Help, Water for Elephants, Peace Like a River. I would add The Secret Life of Bees.

Like Steve, I also keep entire collections of certain authors: Susan Meissner, Lisa Samson, Anne Tyler. And reaching back a few years - John D. MacDonald (the Travis McGee Series) and Dick Francis.

Oh where would we be w/out books?

And MaryBeth, I agree completely with your assessment of what makes a book a keeper.

Blessings, my fellow wordsmiths!

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

A keeper to me is one I would read again. I don't have time to read a book twice as there are to many goods ones out there that I haven't read.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

Carrie Turansky said...

Thanks for these thoughts on writing a keeper! Excellent goals to strive toward. That is the kind of writer I hope to be! I regularly clean out my shelves and donate to our library's annual book sale, but there are some books that are too dear to donate. Coldwater Revival, by Nancy Jo Jenkins, Not a Sparrow Falls,by Linda Nichols, and William Henry is a Fine Name by Cathy Gohlke, are some of those....but there are many more. I enjoyed reading everyone's suggestions for keepers.