Tag Archives: J.D. Salinger

Books that changed my life (the early years)

I brought it on myself.  I see that now.  I was thirteen-years-old, wasting a perfectly good summer’s day lazing about on the chaise lounge by our pool, sighing dramatically about how bored I was, which inevitably prompted my parents (after failed attempt to get me to do yard-work) to shove a well-worn copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” into my hands.

“Trust us, you’ll love it!” they implored, forcing it on me with that special brand of parental enthusiasm that provoke eye-rolls in even the most compliant of teenagers.   “Just give it a chance.”

Seeing no other choice, I took their smelly old book, agreeing (yet highly skeptical) to read only a chapter.  By the end of the day, I had finished it.

But “The Catcher in the Rye” is just one of the many books that rocked my childhood literary world.  Here are some of the others.

“Look Through My Window” – this is the first book I ever fell in love with.  It felt like I had a secret stealing away to my room to read this in third grade and I remember being called down for dinner and literally not being able to tear myself away.

“Joni” – I did a book report on this autobiography of a teenager who becomes a paraplegic when I was in the fourth grade.  Reading such a tragic and inspirational story made me feel very grown up.  And afraid of diving into swimming pools.

“Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?” – for obvious reasons.

“Forever” – I was only in fourth grade when I read Judy Blume’s “Forever.”  For some reason still unbeknownst to me, my mother thought it was appropriate for a ten-year-old to read about a high school girl having sex for the first time and her boyfriend with a penis named Ralph.

“Where the Red Fern Grows” – I read this in Mr. Eliason’s seventh grade Reading Class.  In retrospect, I should have taken Spanish.  But boy, did I love this book.

“Diary of Ann Frank” – for obvious reasons.

“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton.  I read The Outsiders at least three times and it’s probably the first book I read that made me cry.   Still to this day, when I’m feeling melancholy, I often recite Ponyboy’s favorite Frost poem in my head.  “Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold…”

What books made a mark on you as a child?

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Holden Caulfield Wasn’t Built in a Day: Why Writing Is Revising

The first version hardly ever works.  On paper, or in life.  Think about the first version of the adult you.  Got a mental picture of it?

that haircut still gives me nightmares

Just like you were not a suave seductress tossing out insightful yet witty bon-mots about the latest Terrance Malick film while you were sweating in your jelly shoes in the Cafetorium of the seventh grade dance, the first draft of your fiction (or screenplay) is also not quite ready for the grown-up world.

But we all gotta start somewhere.

In Bird by Bird, the wonderful Anne Lamott urges writers to write shitty first drafts.  This advice is important, if not inevitable.  But the thing I find that most often holds new writers back from this is that they’re too proud about the toil it took to create this very imperfect work that they become blinded to its flaws.  Do You Know How Hard They Worked on This?   Waa.

Well, guess what, people?  That hard work you did is just the beginning!  Because if you’re truly doing service to your story, your prose, and your characters, the sad truth is, it’s going to take several passes to get it right.  And the best thing is,  each time you refine it, you’ll discover ways to make it even better, until finally, (after many, many drafts) it’s almost exactly as you envisioned it.  But never completely.

Perhaps Debbie Allen’s character in FAME said it best.   (Just substitute “dancer” and “fame” for “writer.”)

That said, the ability to be objectively critical of one’s own work is a practice.  If you feel you’re having trouble with it, give it time.  Sometimes, it’s easier to walk away from a piece of writing for a night (a week, a month) so that you’re able to look at it with fresh unbiased eyes.  Our babies are precious to us, and yet, we must be prepared to sacrifice them.

“The boy himself is too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say          about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it.” — Original jacket copy, J.D. Salinger

 

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