Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reading through Good Times and Bad

This post is about the authors whose books accompanied me through turning points, pulled me out of down times, and waltzed with me when things went well.

A post that promises to be long and winding deserves a soundtrack, don't you think? I give you the people of Open Books, a non-profit that promotes literacy and runs a bookstore in Chicago. They want to encourage those of us who've grown overfond of our e-readers to get out, browse the shelves, and pick up a print book. 

(Feel free to bust a move as you read on.) Earlier this month, Patricia Rickrode, who writes as Jansen Schmidt, gave me the Booker Award (not to be confused with the Man Booker Prize, ha!). Patricia also threw down a challenge: name my five favorite books and nominate three other bloggers for the award.

No way could I narrow down my favorite books to five, so I'm doing what Patricia did: naming influential authors. Each of my five taught me something/gave me something I needed at a particular point in my life. Just as a certain scarf, scent, or piece of jewelry evokes a particular time and place for me, so do these writers.

Mary Stewart – I must have been fourteen or fifteen when I discovered Mary Stewart and THE MOON SPINNERS. The windmill on the cover and exotic setting of Crete hooked me. Most of all, I remember a scene in which the hero and heroine drag themselves from the water. The heroine was wearing a bathing suit, but when she and the hero embraced, she thinks, "We might as well have been naked." That sentence switched on my sexuality. One minute I was a kid, and the next, I wasn't. While I loved THIS ROUGH MAGIC and AIRS ABOVE THE GROUND, and MY BROTHER MICHAEL, THE MOON SPINNERS was my first Stewart and is unforgettable because it opened me to possibility. An ordinary (although lovely and plucky) woman could stumble into and get herself out of danger--while falling in love. Stewart's settings also gave me a permanent hunger for travel.

Maeve Binchy – I'd been an English major in college, which meant I read so much literary fiction, I forgot why I liked to read. My mother passed along Maeve Binchy's first book, LIGHT A PENNY CANDLE, published thirty-two years ago. Binchy pulled me out of my mired-in-first-job funk and reminded me why I enjoy slipping into the lives of others and experiencing their problems, adventures, and triumphs. Binchy's books would accompany me through motherhood, two careers, and inspire me to write fiction.

Nora Roberts – I was a mom, working at a job that valued repartee, cynicism, and zeal for working long hours. Alas, I'm lousy at repartee, passed skepticism but failed at cynicism, and was wracked with guilt over the hours spent away from my family. Enter Nora Roberts. The first novel I read might have been SACRED SINS in 1987. Her stories offered escape, a fast pace, and lean prose—all appreciated by a working mom with little free time.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips – HEAVEN, TEXAS wasn't Susan Elizabeth Phillips' first book but was the first of hers I read. It was released in paperback in April, 1995, the month and year my then-employer, The Houston Post, printed its last newspaper. If one finds herself in unemployment hell, a feel-good story is as necessary as food and water. SEP came through for me again eleven years ago this week. After the Twin Towers fell, I turned to THIS HEART OF MINE. The story's heroine is a children's book author, and I clung to Daphne the Bunny and Benny the Badger as much as I leaned on the church-camp-turned-B&B setting with its pastel cottages and water views. This book was an emotional refuge for me, and I'm not exaggerating when I say I'd finish it one evening and re-start it the next.

My choice for writer number five is many writers. During Houston's hot, humid summers, I count on British and Irish writers for relief. Why? Cool, rainy settings refresh me when my front lawn is so dry it crackles. When the temps are in the nineties, I want books from Marian Keyes, Lucy Dillon, Maggie O'Farrell, Jojo Moyes, Marcia Willett, and the list goes on and on.

I haven't singled out favorite Houston-based writers, favorite writers I know personally, or favorite writers I've taken classes from because it's so hard to pick and choose from those groups, I didn't try.

The Booker Award  goes to the following bloggers: Lark Haward of THIS blog, Kay Hudson, and Karen McFarland. It never expires, so there's no pressure to post about it anytime soon.

Readers, your turn. What writer or book provided inpiration, comfort, or a kick in the pants at a particular point in your life?


Coleen Patrick said...

I'm a big fan of Nora Roberts. I remember going to a signing she did locally several years back. It was at a time when I wrote simply for myself,saving everything in a big rubbermaid container. Her talk inspired me, but I had to leave the event early (missing getting my book signed) because of an obligation I no longer wanted to be a part of (but didn't know how to get out of). That moment began a long discovery for me on figuring out what I really wanted and reorganizing my prirorites. :)

Jennette Marie Powell said...

So fun to see your early influences, Pat! And even more so, why these books are special. I got tagged in this and am looking forward to posting mine next week.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen! Funny how it takes one tiny disappointment, like having to leave a book-signing early, to force us to acknowledge a bigger problem. I'll bet Nora Roberts would be happy to know she played a role in your reshifting of priorities.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I know you got tagged, Jennette. Bwahahaha!

Seriously, though, the award made me stop and think about the writers whose books have been my companions through good times and bad--and whose stories made me want to write fiction. That Mary Stewart has a lot to answer for!

Sheila Seabrook said...

I loved reading your list, Pat, and why you picked each author. My list would all be focused on romantic comedy authors, all of which I discovered during a rough patch in my life when I desperately needed to laugh: Jennifer Crusie,Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jill Shalvic, Rachel Gibson. There are others but these are top on my list.

Kay Hudson said...

My goodness, Pat, I'll have to think about this one for a while. Narrowing down my several decades of reading to five favorites--very hard. I'll probably do something sneaky. Do I get to copy the cute little graphic?

And as for your choices, number one sure brings back memories: Mary Stewart (especially the Merlin series), Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney.

So many books! So many authors!

Louise Behiel said...

that would be a tough choice for me. thx Pat

Lark Howard said...

Great post, Pat. I can't imagine narrowing the authors who have had impact on my life down to five.

SEP's books are go-tos for me too--I've read them and have Natural Born Charmer and Match Me If You Can on CDs to listen to on long solo drove trips.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sheila! Oh, boy, romantic comedies can be lifesavers, can't they. Have you read Marian Keyes? She's not afraid to take on real problems, but there's a lot of humor in her stories.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Of course you'll do something sneaky, Kay. I'd be disappointed if you didn't. My number five is a bunch of British and Irish authors because I couldn't pick just one.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the influence Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney had on me. How lucky we were to read their books at a vulnerable time in our lives because they showed us regular, everyday women could step up, confront danger, and save themselves and the person they loved. Those books sent us the message we could be the heroines of our own lives.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Louise,
I won't tell you how long it took me to write the post. It was hard to whittle down the list, but the authors I wrote about influenced me, and gratitude propelled me to share them with you. Thanks for stopping by.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books must be fun to listen to in audio form. NATURAL BORN CHARMER'S opening--the heroine's in a beaver costume--is one of my all-time favoites.

Karen McFarland said...

Uh Pat, good thing you came and got me because I had no idea that you posted this. Where was I? Oh yeah, buried in family stress. Well, that's ongoing, but let's get back to reality Karen. LOL!

I had not heard of the Booker Award. Thank you very much for bestowing me this privilege. :)

Interesting that you chose Maeve Binchy. She also is Irish, if my memory serves me right. Douglas Kennedy used to work with her in Ireland and wrote a beautiful tribute to her after her recent death on his Facebook page in which I follow. he's one of my favs.

Yes, I too love the Irish writers, although I do not live in a dry, parched climate. I happen to think the Irish have a wonderful gift for story telling. And what's not to love about Ireland.

Now that you are a world traveler after conquering France, I see Ireland in your future Pat. You and your family must go!

Thank you Pat! :)