This week I had the luxury of reading two books in a truly decadent way - I read them straight through, each in one sitting. Both books are short, the shade was deep and there were no other demands on my time. Bliss. Bliss and reaffirmation.
The first book was The Giver by Lois Lowry. I've read it before, many times. When my hand reached for a book from the 'waiting shelf' it hesitated, moved to this book from the 'best loved' shelf. I tried to change its mind but it insisted and I demurred. I'm trying to do that, let my instincts guide me a little more. I read this book shortly after it was published in the early 90's, searching for novels for the voracious readers in my junior classes. It touched a nerve for me and for them. I read it to my children. I've shared it with fellow writers and let it illuminate the writing process for me. It speaks volumes about the role of memory, both good and bad, in colouring our lives. It never preaches but clearly has a message about free will, about making hard choices. I loved reading it through in one fluid line enjoying the story and the way information is conveyed simply, elegantly, slowly.
But it was the second book that was the real prize. Having read the first in one big gulp I had no fiction left to read. I have this game I like to play called Bookstore Serendipity, a game that has been made more difficult by the death of most independant bookstores in North America. On the days I play, I enter the store believing that just the right book will be presented to me, the very book I need. So I headed into Barnes and Noble and believed. There was a slow moving stroller in the aisle and I zigged. And there it was, the right book, dead ahead on the new in sci-fi shelf, even though it is clearly fantasy or speculative fiction. The author's name leapt out - Patrick Rothfuss. I've read two of his novels and I am eagerly anticipating the third in the trilogy. This wasn't it but the back cover made it clear it was about one of the characters from the books, an offspring of book, all about a mysterious waif that the hero knows. The book was slim and felt just right. I headed for the cash my heart skipping a beat. I've been working on offspring stories and myth as I work on my own speculative trilogy. I wasn't alone in this! How perfect!
And it was perfect. The writing was lyrical and strange, full of rich language and protolanguage, full of naming and instinct and compensating. A wonderful story indeed but there was so much more...a foreward and afterward that were sent by the universe, the true magic of Bookstore Serendipity at work. The message I needed to hear, which we all need to hear. If I could, I would include all of his words here but this will have to suffice. Here Rothfuss is talking about the reaction of one of his first beta readers.
"Readers expect certain things. People are going to read this and be disappointed. It doesn't do what a normal story is supposed to do."
Then Vi said something I will always remember...."Those people have stories written for them all the time. What about me? Where's the story for people like me? Let those other people have their normal stories...This story isn't for them. This is my story. This story is for people like me."
And what he finds is that all the people he assumed wouldn't like the story did. And at first this confused him and then he realizes this about himself and the character in the story and all the beta readers:
"I think it's because we're both somewhat broken, in our own odd ways. More importantly, we're both aware of it. Auri knows she isn't all quite proper true inside, and this makes her feel very much alone.
I know how she feels.
....I cannot help but wonder how many of us walk through our lives feeling slightly broken and alone, surrounded all the time by others who feel exactly the same way."
(exerpted from The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, Pages 153 and 158)
And this was what I needed to hear, again. This was the big prize in the game of Bookstore Serendipity. It is alright to work on something that doesn't fit comfortably in the main stream of art or life. Years ago when I was just beginning to find the nerve to discard the opinion of an instructor and cling to my own vision I was once told that a letter g that I had created in a calligraphy class "would not be understood by the man on the street". And I said "I didn't write it for the man on the street". The instructor was not amused but I suspect that I should have listened more carefully to myself that day and I would have saved myself a lot of second guessing and other critic-induced grief along the way. I, we, need to live in support of our own vision. We need to accept that one size does not fit all and get on with creating what we were meant to create. And along the way we will find that we aren't alone.