First of all, I am at Hedgebrook, and I am very very (very!) lucky to be here. Twenty-five years ago, Seattle philanthropist Nancy Nordhoff and writer Sheryl Feldman founded this place "with a vision to nurture the voices and work of individual women w... The ambition and impact of their vision is reflected most astoundingly in its deceptively unassuming "farmhouse" library (it's a farmhouse with wifi): shelf after shelf filed with more than a thousand books written by the women who have been sheltered by its cottages, embraced by their fellow women writers, and lovingly fed at its table. There are names you know and names you don't, but these shelves contain riches of a rare kind, because they are organized not by genre but by author, and you are as likely to find "Random Family," here, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, as you are to find "The Dispossessed" by Ursula K. Le Guin. (I'd never heard of either and have read both while I've been here.)
I came here to write, and so I have. But part of me wonders if I wasn't truly called here to remember what it was like to read with the single-minded passion of a teenager in love. Each night I stand in the midst of this library and look and look, thinking, what will I read next? And then I carry the precious book home with me in a basket, get in bed by 8:30 or 9, and read till one o'clock in the morning--if, that is, I can get myself to turn out the light.
Do you remember the last time you read like that? Maybe you still do. But for me it's been awhile. And it's brought back some of my most vivid and pleasurable memories, memories of falling completely, utterly in love with books.
For me, my mother's bookshelves were the font to which I returned again and again to be replenished when a book was done and I was ready for another. Her shelves held the variety and opportunities for discovery that only a personal library can, with titles from her years as a "Book of The Month Club" subscriber (ah "Giant," "Exodus," and "Rebecca"!) volumes from her foray into graduate school (a heavily notated copy of "Ulysses", Hardy, Faulkner, Hemingway, the Brontes, and every single volume of Austen), and tattered paperbacks representing her middle-grade tastes ("The Virginian" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm"). Upon finishing one book, I would descend the stairs into the living room, ready to begin my search for another, and the memory of standing in front of those shelves, looking, looking, still elicits a feeling of excitement and anticipation. Sometimes I would ask my mother questions. But mostly I would handle them, their covers, their spines; I would run my hands across their skins, open them up, flip through their pages, even read aloud, sometimes, if I was alone, their first pages.
And then I would choose, and, book under my arm, retreat back into my room, where I would stay with that book for hours.
Do you remember when you first chose one book from many, without recommendations or interference, to take to your bed or your desk or your couch? Was it taken from a personal library, the library of a family member or friend? Or was it from a library in your neighborhood or at school? Did you have a ritual for choosing what to read next? Do you remember when you thought: I will never get enough, and thank god there will always be more!
This may not, on the face of it, appear to be a blogpost about writing my first novel. But in this journey I have come to believe that one reason writers get better with age is that it takes years to read enough books to be ready. To read until you are like a classical guitarist with a physical memory for your instrument as powerful, or more so, than the dictates of your conscious mind; to read so much you know words as well as a carpenter knows wood.
Hedgebrook is many things, but everything it is comes down to a love of books. So please, if you have a minute, tell me about the beginnings of your love affair. Today, I'm in the mood for romance.