There are certain pieces of writing that I have for one reason or another returned to. This list of writings is embarrassing, probably juvenile and ill explained. However, there is still merit in the stepping stones of the random pieces of literature, I’ve used them as handholds, or they have reappeared by coincidence, which sometimes feels mystical.
I’m not saying my list is compressive or important but I think it is important that we think about the words that we revisit, the stories that stay. It is August 2009, I am in the emergency room because my mother was spraying gasoline on a hornet’s nest on the balcony. She is allergic to bees and has been stung too many times after pouring gasoline on a hornet’s nest; she made the mistake of turning on a porch light, bringing the bees from their slumber. I am waiting with my grandmother. I am tired but also excited by the thrill of the hospital, the comfort of the successful, medicalized narrative of a near-empty emergency room. There are no copies of People or Cosmopolitan to read but the cover of the June issue of the New Yorker is blue and inviting. I read an except or what I think is a short story about a young family and their living. The story is simple but catches me and I forget about my mother and her bees. I leave with the copy of the magazine from the emergency room. It becomes tattered and only the pages with my story remain, I read it every once in a while.
A year later, August 2010, I am walking through a mall before bookstores were not in malls anymore. I pick up a thick book on the New Arrival shelves. I open it and there is my story. I realize with joy that I am holding an entire book about the couple in Minnesota. I bought the overpriced novel, and read Johnathan Franzen’s Freedom in one sitting. I read parts of it several times later.
Later that year, I returned to visit my high school creative writing teacher, David Williams. I loaned him my copy of Freedom, his wife was sick and Mr. Williams loved birds. He never tried to return the book and I never asked for it.
Then, in 2013, after seeing a friend off to Russia for the summer, I found a brand new copy of the book in a bookstore that I can’t remember the name of.
Now, I know Franzen’s white-man-with-problems narrative is boring and expected but I love this novel. There are multiple narratives, and the novel is a commentary on marriage, war, debt, and the commodification of lust.
Next up is a book not by a white man touched by Oprah’s golden glove. Monica Holloway’s Driving with Dead People is a book I’ve read to shreds. It is not particularly well written, which is why I think I like it so much. Maybe it’s because I can imagine myself writing it. Holloway writes a memoir of her struggles with her abusive father and an absent mother. I could compare it to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle but Holloway executes her similar story with an easy humor and a more believable honesty. Driving with Dead People reflected similar friendships and a home life. I’ve put the novel back on the shelf and have not touched it in years but I’m sure when I need to revisit my teenage-depressed-and-in-poverty-grounded-for-wearing-too-much-makeup-self, I will pick up the book again.
I think I was in middle school when someone told me that I had to watch some movie with a character that shared my obscure name. I ended up following through and watched the film version of White Oleander. Years later, I found a book with the same name on the spine. Needless to say, I enjoyed Janet Finch’s novel much more than the film. Her writing is subtle, the language is beautiful and I prefer it to her follow up novel, Paint it Black.
Next up, we have the super embarrassing declaration of my tastes that is the Flowers in the Attic Saga by V.C. Andrews before V.C. Andrews became a weird corporation of ghost writers who I assume are writing in some haunted basement, chanting the formula for their particular Gothic fiction narrative. I don’t really have much to say about this other than maybe the incest did not turn me off because I’m an only child? And my mother was too busy to pay attention to the fact that my copy had BANNED BOOK scrawled across the cover. Often a sick day was spent rereading all of the novels in succession.
To redeem myself from that last submission, I will make clear that I carried around a copy of Sharon Old’s The Dead and the Living for a long while. Her collection was first recommended to me in high school and then again twice more in college. It kept coming up and I never left it.