My Literary History

This past week I started a Creative Non-Fiction class through Berkeley Extension. Our first assignment was to submit our writing and reading profile. This is what I wrote.

Books are my best friends. Written words—my own and others’—are my constant companions.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had a book in my hand. I’ve always felt the cold shadow of loneliness looming, even when people surround me; books are my warm blanket, my shield against the long minutes and endless hours that terrify me with their silence.

I love getting lost in words, in the stories they share. I cherish meeting fascinating characters. I appreciate being transported to incredible new worlds.

My first literary love was fiction. I adored fantasy and science fiction growing up and I still covet their daring departure from reality, even today. Historical fiction was also a favorite—by no other means could I learn about the past in a meaningful way.

As an adult I read considerably more non-fiction. For the past ten or so years I’ve been entangled in a torrid affair with the memoir. I’m enthralled by people’s lives and the myriad ways they choose to capture them on the page.

I also read a lot of self-help and how-to books; I’m an avid student and am always striving to better myself. Over the years I’ve read much and more about living with depression, practicing meditation, overcoming infertility and surviving parenthood. When tragedy strikes it is always various books that guide me through the darkness and deposit me safely on the other side. I don’t know how I would have survived my miscarriage without reading the stories of other women’s journeys through loss. I couldn’t have managed infertility without the words of those who had traveled that rocky path before me. Currently I’m navigating the sudden and unexpected end of an important friendship and what should come into print but a collection of essays by women who have endured the same.

Books are my escape, but they also mark the sometimes treacherous journey home.

Do all those who read incessantly eventually take up the pen to write? I have always wondered. I know I did, first in the dozens of journals now collecting dust in the closet of my childhood home, later in stapled letters to friends halfway across the world. Eventually those letters became emails and when I lost my first pregnancy those emails and journals evolved into a blog. For a woman who always considered books her trusted friends and confidants, finding a community of other women who existed only through their own words—and were willing to read my own—was like stumbling parched upon a desert oasis. Writing nourished my soul.

I discovered myself in the over 1400 posts I wrote in the five transformative years after my miscarriage. Each post sharpened the outline of who I was and presented a clearer picture of who I wanted to be. During those impossible and exhilarating five years my words helped me find myself when my circumstances threatened to steal me away.

Two years after my first blog post I started copy editing at a mother’s magazine. Now I write there as well. Seeing my words in print for the first time, and knowing over 5,000 people would be reading them, was an incredible thrill and I understood then that writing meant more to me I had realized. The fragile tendrils of hope that I may someday write for larger audiences—in print or online—still coil tentatively around each word I write.

In the past three decades I’ve strung together hundreds of thousands of words and I like to think I’m getting better at it. I do believe the simple act of writing improves one’s ability to write, but I also recognize that eventually writers need to be pushed into foreign territory in order to improve. They need to read new and inspiring pieces and attempt creating new and inspiring pieces of their own. It is for the challenge, and some fresh perspective, that I am taking this course.

What would you include in your own literary history?

5 Comments

  1. I love this post and the idea of writing a “writing and reading profile.” Mine would talk about how I love to check things off lists almost as much as I love to read, which is why I conquer classics lists and prize winners interspersed with whatever else tickles my fancy. How I see my “favorite books” bookshelf as an extension of myself. How sad it is to me that books I adored — books I’ve read twice, even — fade from my memory faster than I want them to. How much I love fiction but have no desire to try my hand at writing it (a memoir perhaps, but not fiction). Thanks for the thought-provoking question!

    1. I am also surprised how quickly things that I love–especially books–fade from my memory. Raising my children, I realize that without pictures, videos and written records of their childhood I would literally not remember the vast majority of it. And that is terrifying. I recently re-read one of my favorite books and was so pleased to find that it withstood the passage of time, and me maturing through it. That isn’t always the case.

      It’s interesting, before I even got this assignment I was thinking about how I had to write something about books being my best friends because without fail, they are what get me through the dark times in my life. When no one I know has been through what I’m dealing with, I find books written by those who have. People’s stories have been such integral parts of my life, I can’t really fathom living without them. It was kind of shocking to realize how important books are to me. I’m so thankful people write, so that I can read.

  2. Wow, I’d never consider my literary history before – my writing and reading profile. Probably my answer would be “jack of all trades,” but that doesn’t quit grasp it.

    This is thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.

    xoxo

  3. I love the idea of a literary history. Mine would include voracious reading as a child, and losing my reading mojo in recent years, at the same time as I discovered writing and blogs. I probably read as many words as ever – they’re just not books anymore. Now that I write, I read differently, and take pleasure in different aspects (oh, the joy of a well-crafted and surprising sentence) of a book. It has both made me a more critical, and more appreciative reader.

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