Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Heroin & Writer Lust

I've got a book problem.

I've always had it, but lately it's gotten worse. I am drowning in books.

Over the years--as recently as the Fall--I have made attempts to seek a cure. I've culled my books, my haphazard library. I've donated books to friends, to the county library, to women's and childrens' groups. I became a volunteer for Operation Paperback, and each month I send countless paperbacks overseas to soldiers who desperately need a good story.

None of this has helped my disease. Let me offer proof.

Exhibit A, one of the four bookshelves in my livingroom/kitchen:

This bookshelf just squeaked, "Save me!"

Do not believe my husband when he tells you that I haven't given away enough books. I have. But this is as far as I can go. I won't show you the other seven bookshelves in my house. They're not fit for company.

Some girls dream of shopping sprees at Sephora and Manolo Blahniks. I dream of built-in bookshelves.

Now that I've begun my MFA in Writing, my book problem has gotten worse. Short story collections and essay collections--slim volumes, true--have been added to the stacks. Aimee Bender, Katherine Mansfield, and Jim Harrison have now joined the ranks of William Shakespeare, Diana Gabaldon, Lauren Groff and William Bartram. The books on my shelves speak Cherokee, Gullah, Cockney English, Gaelic and vampire. Yet they get along. I think.

Yesterday, I continued work on a new novel, which opens up a realm of possibilities for research. Okay, fine. A new reason to feed my book problem. Still, the sky has brightened and the seas have parted on a whole new world of topics like the Antebellum women's movement, the cotton industry, and pirates. Ooh, and also horse racing and 19th century politics and riding boots.

I might as well just go ahead and open a vein.

As a result of my book problem, I recently purchased one of the most enjoyable novels I've read in years: A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. This book, which I gobbled down in about two days last weekend, satisfied all my cravings. It's centered around a
young American historian in Oxford (a hereditary witch determined to ignore her witchy DNA); a gorgeous, bookish vampire-scientist, and an ancient text. This is no teenager's vampire story: The pace of the novel is lightening-fast, the settings gorgeous, the mystery fun, and since Harkness herself is a PhD in history and a research hound, it totally satisfies the egghead in me. I can't wait for the sequel.

Since I read it, I've been suffering from writer lust. Another of my unfortunate "problems." I'm not necessarily jealous of Harkness's success (okay, maybe a smidge). What I lust after is her skill, her power to meld intellect with imagination. This is the sort of story I always long to tell: one that fuses history and research and books and adventure, and, when necessary (and some could argue this is always necessary), love.

And on top of all that, to create a story readers enjoy--full-throttle enjoy, like I did. On a beach, at the lake, on their couches, on a plane. Heads bent over gripped pages or Ipads or Kindles, completely immersed. Reading into the wee hours, though they have jobs and kids and life to take care of the next day.

It also doesn't hurt that as a full-time professor and author, Harkness is engaged in almost exactly the dual career I've been working toward since I was 24. And she's only in her mid-40s.

Did I mention that A Discovery of Witches is her fiction debut? Debut. First novel. And already a bestseller.

Okay, maybe more than a smidge jealous. But it's good-natured jealousy, non-threatening writer lust. Because for all her success and writerly genius, I get to read what she writes. And that's a gift.

So now it's back to my own projects and the story I'm currently trying to tell. In two minutes, it'll be time to wake my daughter, whom I've already let chatter and sing in her crib for far too long. Then my day really begins.

It's a wild, complicated, frustrating, wonderful, exhausting, exhilirating life, choosing to be a writer. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I also wouldn't trade this for anything:

My daughter, 2 1/2, head in her own book.

Happy Thursday, all!

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