Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reading Matters

The problem with reading a really good book is what do you read next?

I’ve just finished two really good books: Sara Gruen’s Flying Changes and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Flying Changes was a horse book, so naturally I was predisposed to like it. I also like Gruen’s writing style and that she gets the details right. I’ve read too many horse books where the writer assumes a horse is a horse, etc. Not Gruen. She knows her stuff. I’d read her first book, Riding Lessons, and liked it. Flying Changes is the sequel. And it’s better, I think, than the first book.

The Time Traveler’s Wife was a superb piece of writing. At conferences, I’ve heard agents and editors say they want something different: good writing that looks at a subject in a way that it hasn’t been looked at before. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story. So, how is it different? Henry travels through time. He doesn’t want to; he just does—sometimes to the future, sometimes to the past. Of course this presents problems to Clare, who loves him.

Reading The Time Traveler’s Wife has changed my perspective a bit. Now, I’d like to think that time-traveling is what my mother did during the last years of her life. Her dementia often seemed to put her in another place, another time. For the three years she lived with me, when I woke her up at 6:15 every morning to start the first round of her medications, I never knew “where” she might be. Sometimes, she talked to me about her daughter and told me things her little girl was doing, not realizing that the “stranger” she spoke to was her daughter. Sometimes she’d ask me where her daughter was. Once, when her mind was traveling in the past, I asked her who she thought I was. “Oh,” she said, “You’re that actress on television.”

Other days, she lived in the present and knew exactly who I was. But after her stroke in 2004 when she was 91—when she had to go to a nursing home, she rarely knew me. For a few days she babbled, then started talking of her impending marriage to someone named “Mr. Wilson.” This was a time I couldn’t figure out, a time in her life where I’d never been and couldn’t go.

Then she fell and broke her hip. I sat in the emergency room with her while we waited for a room, and she told me how to put a scalloped edge on the skirt I was making (I wasn’t making a skirt) and how to make creamed onions. She’d already told a nurse how the catering table fell on her at her wedding, a story that didn’t come close to matching what the nursing home representative said in her phone call: “Your mother decided she wanted to walk and got out of her wheelchair. . . .” So, I must have been a time traveler’s daughter.

What to read next? My stack of unread books that now fills two bookcases. Maybe something by Jodi Picoult? I’m glad a Northside High School student recommended Picoult’s work to me. (One of the perks of being a writer-in-residence was finding out what talented kids liked to read.) Maybe Sheri ReynoldsFirefly Cloak that I bought at the James River Writers Conference when I heard her speak?

One of my favorite indulgences is reading. I’ve heard the average American reads four or fewer books a year. I can’t imagine reading so few.

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Blogger Marion said...

I too loved Time Traveler's Wife but hadn't thought to apply it to someone in dementia. It makes sense, actually. My ex is going through that now, and my son tells me he often does not know who he is, but does recognize his daughter-in-law's voice on the phone. They were planning to pick him up for Thanksgiving, provided he was not off in some irrational rage state.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I am still looking for a book that will give me the creative jolt I received from The Time Traveler's Wife.

BTW: Journey Man is a new show on Monday nights at 10 pm (on NBC) and comes very close to depicting this story. Check it out!

8:04 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I completely relate. I have a stack of books by my recliner that beg to be read. Right now I'm reading the life of Stonewall Jackson, and I hope to pick a good work of fiction for the break. I'll have to check out Jodi Picoult - thanks for recommending her.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Marion said...

Becky, today's New York Times Book review (which I get online, free)has a review of THE HEATHENS, a memoir written by a woman raised on a farm in Iowa after her father deserted her Mom and siblings, leaving her with stern Methodist grandparents.The review is excellent; I intend to look for that book. If you cannot access the review, let me know & I'll email it to you.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

Yum, creamed onions.

All I'm reading now is quit smoking books. Still have to get to the book Amy gave me, A Wrinkle in Time, and my niece mailed me, "The God of Animals." I know; it's hard to believe people read four or fewer books a year.

11:03 PM  

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