52-7 A Book You Love and A Book You Hate

The “love” part of this topic for the 52-Week Writing Challenge I thought would be the easy part. As I considered it though, I have so many books I love and read and re-read constantly. The easy part became the hard part.

The actual easy part was the book I hate. I had to read for novel research, and I loathed it, every scene and character.

The Book I Love

While studying English Literature I became enamored of most 19th Century authors: Shelley, Hardy, Austen, Dickens, the Brontës. One book, however, stands out, and that’s Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

The story of an orphan much put upon by her extended family, who ultimately send her to a boarding school from this side of hell, and how she rose above her abuse to be a learned and dedicated governess touches me on so many levels. I have a weird family. I was the first female in that family to obtain higher education. I was a teacher who loved the kids but not the office politics. I found my very own bad-boy, Mr. Rochester. In my family’s history there were quite a few crazy women–who weren’t shut up in an attic.

Jane appealed to me because she stood up for herself. She remained skeptical of Mr. Rochester’s affection (and don’t get me started on the sh**ty way he expressed it), and she removed herself from the relationship rather than compromise her morals. She went off and became her own woman before she rediscovered Mr. Rochester.

And, most of all, it had a dark but happy ending. I didn’t get that in my love relationships, but I like reading about them because, hello, hope.

Jane Eyre is a book I’ve probably read a dozen times over the years, those intervals long enough that when I do re-read it, I find something new in it. Not bad for a 170-year-old novel.

Of course, now that I’ve talked about it a little, I have the itch to read it again.

The Book I Hate

I’m not a believer in censorship at all, particularly of hate speech. It’s nasty, it’s uncomfortable, but I prefer having it in the full light of day where everyone can see it for what it is: bigotry of the worst ilk. I’d rather it not be expressed in closed-door rooms or dark basements because if you don’t know about it, you can’t fight it.

A white supremacist named Dr. William Pierce so hated the U.S. government and the Civil Rights Act that he wrote, under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald, a novel about how a rightwing “heroes” overthrow the U.S. government and set up a new one where Jews, African-Americans, and other “mud peoples” are executed by mobs and hung from lampposts–The Turner Diaries.

The “second revolution” begins with the bombing of FBI headquarters–by a “martyr” in a rental truck who drove up to the front of the building and set off his bomb. (Sound familiar?) The rebels end up having to fight the U.S. armed forces and succeed only in small, commando-like raids. Until the novel’s protagonist, Earl Turner, flies a small plane with a stolen nuke into the Pentagon, leaving behind his diaries to “inspire” his fellow rebels.

Inspire this novel did, unfortunately. In the 1980s, an anti-government, white supremacist group from the northwest who called themselves The Order copied the novel’s exploits in almost every way. No bombs, but bombings were in the planning before one of their group turned informant. The FBI arrested many of them, and they’re in jail to this day for their involvement in the murder of a left-wing Jewish radio DJ named Alan Berg.

The reason I read this ugly tome was in my research for my series based on an act of domestic terrorism, I’d heard that The Turner Diaries was Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh’s favorite book and that he may have used it to learn how to make his bomb. Neither was true, though he had read the book, but it added to the monster image of him.

I’m a fast reader. A book the size of The Turner Diaries should have taken me a day or two to finish. It took me weeks. It was too dark, too hateful for me to take except in brief snippets. There is one scene that haunted my dreams for weeks.

I also don’t believe in book burning, but I’d make an exception for this hateful book. It doesn’t reside on any bookshelf in my house. It’s packed away at the bottom of a plastic bin containing all the materials I used for researching my series–buried in the dark where it belongs.

The sad part is, there is likely someone out there, now, in this current political climate for whom The Turner Diaries will be a book to love.

What about you? What books do you love? Which ones do you regret reading?

The Prodigal Returns

It’s been over a month since my last substantive post here–on the first day of AWP. It’s not that I haven’t been writing; I have. Mostly re-writing. I haven’t been writing my political blog; I haven’t done Friday Fictioneers; I haven’t done Flash! Friday. I’ve not put my finger on quite why, other than the obvious: winter doldrums, lingering nasty weather, and overall write-on-a-self-imposed-deadline burnout.

So, here’s a summary: AWP was great; I had story selected as a finalist in a national contest; the agent loved my writing but decided my novel wasn’t for him; the Virginia Festival of the book was wonderful (though I’ll confess I wish I’d been a panelist instead of in the audience); I had a story rejected for an anthology about a week after an anthology appeared with one of my stories in it; I had an editor solicit a story from me “for consideration;” and we’re about ten days away from the staging of my ten-minute play, “Yo’ Momma,” which was a winner in the Ampersand Arts “Bar Hopping” Contest.

Then, on Sunday, I got tagged in a Facebook post: “Name 15 authors who’ve influenced you and who will always stick with you.” Once I started thinking about that, I began to jot down names and decided this would be a much better blog post than a comment on a Facebook post.

I’m back!

Here are the fifteen authors who’ve influenced me with a brief explanation of how and why, divided into women and men but listed in alphabetical order so as not to give away who is/was the most influential.

Louisa May Alcott – She embodied for me the woman writer’s struggle to be accepted for what you are by society and family.

Margaret Atwood – She shows the world that dystopian fiction can be intelligent and well-wrought, and that makes her worthy of emulation.

Jane Austen – For her time, she wielded a sharp pen of sarcasm, feminism, and egalitarianism, and, damn, but she could turn a phrase.

Charlotte Bronte – She showed me that romance and happy endings aren’t elusive after all.

Ursula K. LeGuin – She is a pioneer in one of my favorite genres, science fiction, and I first heard “write what you want to write” from her.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters – She taught me that romantic pairs as protagonists can carry a series (or several series in her case) and that the romance doesn’t detract from a good mystery story.

Sara Paretsky – She showed me your female protagonist can take care of herself and not be dependent upon a man and still be popular (and don’t let editors tell you otherwise) and that plots suffused with liberal politics can be, too.

Kate Wilhelm – She showed that female writers could write “hard” science sci-fi stories and be respected by her male colleagues, even the stodgy ones.

Honorable Mentions: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, Shirley Jackson, Doris Lessing, Flannery O’Connor,

Isaac Asimov – As well as being one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century, he showed me you could tell a story and educate people at the same time.

Harlan Ellison – As well as being an ardent admirer of LeGuin, he showed me that you could and should go into the dark areas of the mind and write about them. He also spent fifteen minutes with me once and told me to never, ever give up writing.

William Faulker – He showed me what every writer from the south needs to accept–our history is both full of joy and worthy of embarrassment.

Thomas Hardy – I love this man’s prose. He can take pages to relate a nanosecond of plot, but you don’t mind.

Stephen King – He showed me that when you write about the horrific, at least do it in a way which elevates it.

Boris Pasternak – He showed me how an artist should stand up for the integrity of his or her work and that an epic should truly be an epic.

Kurt Vonnegut – He showed me that a good story is worth spending weeks, months, even years to perfect.

Honorable Mentions: Mikhail Bulgakov, Fredreich Engels, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, V. I. Lenin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy

Now, fifteen of the writers who read this need to do the same. 😉