Friday, July 18, 2014
Looking for the Extraodinary
It was my turn to choose a book for book club. I hadn't been a member of the group for very long. The weight of choosing a book to suit varied tastes made my pits sticky. I wandered around Barnes & Noble for hours reading back copy and first paragraphs, beginning to believe the perfect book didn't exist.
And frankly, I was looking for more than the next book. I was looking for a new direction. We'd read about plague years and dream-seeping violence and horrendous violations. Don't get me wrong, I'm not squeamish when it comes to hard-hitting fiction, but a steady diet of the stuff had left me battered.
And so, the search labored on. My checklist included these requirements: rich language that wasn't syrupy or distracting, a story that valued the small things that tower large in our lives, a story about familiar things portrayed in surprising ways. That's all. Simple. A story that is neither contrived nor soul-crushing.
Why was this so hard?
And then [cue the rapturous music], I picked up Joy School by Elizabeth Berg. My prize! The story is ordinary and extraordinary. Human. Winsome. Transparent. The girl's mother wears Tabu perfume, for heaven's sake.
I read the book quickly and set it down, only to pick it back up again. I read random scenes. Underlined favorite passages. Carried the characters around in my head for days, maybe weeks. Is anyone gagging yet?
I'd read many wonderful books up to this point--classical, popular, and literary. This is the book that made me want to be a writer. But why?
I wanted to spend my days playing with words and writing stories that become friends to the reader. That's my goal, anyway.
BTW, I traveled a thousand miles to attend a writers conference where Ms. Berg was the keynote speaker. I sat in the front row at all her appearances. The poor lady was on the tail end of a long book tour. She looked ragged. Did that keep me from schmoozing my way into a conversation with her? No! Are you kidding? I have the picture to prove it.
Update: It's been awhile since Ms. Berg has hit the high bar she set for herself with the Katie stories (Durable Goods, Joy School, and True to Form, plus What We Keep), but I still credit her for showing me the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Who has done this for you?