Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Because of A Book with Kim Russo

Today, I have the honor of welcoming to the blog, Kim Russo.  You can find her online at Book-Diva.

Reading has always been a pattern of consumption for me. The faster I could consume it, the smarter I would be. There was always so much to read and consume in high school and later in college, only to be reiterated in some term paper later on.

Recently, I heard someone say that no student should read the great works of literature before they are in college. Before that, no one would have enough of a perspective to truly appreciate the true value of literature. This is what happened to me.

As any well-read student, I read Shakespeare, Camus, and even a little Upton Sinclair. Just enough of everything to round out my academic record and literary resume. I could discuss the effects of the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s literature and the “cloudless climes and starry skies” of Lord Byron’s famous verses. However, many of these pieces did not appeal to me personally, nor did they inspire me to write.

I always thought good writing came from creating a story out of nothing. Personal references were too predictable and too personal. If I became a published author, too many people would try to analyze me and why I wrote what I did because of the life I had had. I’m an intensely private person about my feelings and desires. To have other people appreciate my writing would give me a connection but in a protected way. I would not have to interact with them face to face if I did not wish to.

It’s ironic, then, that the first book that really inspired in me to be a writer was That Night by Alice McDermott. During my first semester in college, I had the opportunity to read this for the very first time. Like me, the author, Alice McDermott, had grown up in the suburbs of Long Island, built after the World War II. In this book, the main characters struggled with the plot, a pregnant teenage girl, who struggles against the current of the ideal suburban life.

It’s not a long book. Not much to consume in terms of pages or words. Rather, I liked the construction and the sound of McDermott’s words in this novel. It had the pitch and rhythm of language that I experienced growing up on Long Island myself. Just like the characters in this novel, I too have struggled with many of the same themes. How to reconcile my uniqueness with the strong blandness of suburban society. How I feared ostracism despite my desire to be a part of a world that demands a certain amount of behavior conformity.

Since reading this novel, I have read two other novels by Alice McDermott, and I have delighted in the same things again and again. Long Island continues to be the backdrop for her work, but it is only where she begins the story, not where she ends it. The knowledge of where she came from does not inhibit or define her boundaries. They add authenticity to the story she created.

This book and this author reminded me that to be a good writer often means using what is a part of you, what you know. It’s not writing your lifestory. It’s about creating a legitimate and authentic story that draws the reader into a different world that’s real to you, the author. That is why, I decided, I would become an author some day.

About That Night:  Recalling American suburbia of the 1960s, this is the story of a teenage boy who retaliates against his girlfriend's mother after fate severs the couple's fragile bond. In souped-up cars, he and his buddies cruise loudly through her neighborhood, wielding chains and egging on the fathers who would dare try to defend their families. The result is a night that no one will be able to forget, and a showdown not only between two generations but also between one young man and the deep-seated fears that have haunted him all his life. 

Buy it at Amazon 
Buy it at Powells

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