It was actually not a million degrees today. Perhaps fall has decided to blow in after all.
For me, fall is the season for rereading novels I’ve loved. For a lady whose To Be Read pile is as tall as mine, it may seem like I don’t have time to go over old territory. But I can’t resist. Besides, as a writer these novels (among so many others) have specific lessons to teach me that are refreshed as I reread.
Here are a few of my frequent rereads as the days grow shorter:
Those hard women, those gorgeous sentences, that harsh yet lush Los Angeles landscape! I can’t get enough. When I reenter one or both of these glorious novels, I always discover something new. Nearly every sentence pops with a surprising, often beautiful image. This is sentence-level attention to language. Exquisite.
Sula by Toni Morrison
I will read and reread Sula every year until I die. For the rage against racial injustice, for the truth about war and PTSD, for the betrayal between women. For the scene when Sula uses her slate to face down the white boys who would hurt her and her friend. Oh that scene with the slate. I first read that line at seventeen years old and I knew from that minute that words were magic. Real magic, no metaphor.
Weetzie Bat (Dangerous Angels series) by Francesca Lia Block
Now I’m sharing the Weetzie Bat series with my own daughter. She wants to know, why is Weetzie’s boyfriend named My Secret Agent Lover Man? Because that’s the boyfriend she wished for, that’s why.
Nobody writes about the magic of young love like FLB. Nobody writes about food the way she does, either. I defy you to read her stories and not end up eating at least one strawberry ice cream with marshmallow fluff.
Also, Weetzie Bat was first published in the late eighties. Francesca Lia Block was writing same sex love stories long before it was cool. For a long time her novels were the only validation a gay teen reader could find on the shelf in YA. Her work is a great reminder to me to write what I want to write, trends be damned.
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
If Francesca Lia Block makes your mouth water for marshmallow fluff and your heart yearn for jacaranda trees and long days of surfing, Annie Proulx makes you damn grateful for your own soft chair and cozy blanket. Proulx’s characters are hard people living hard lives. Newfoundland is unforgiving. Yet I love Aunt’s pragmatism and integrity. I find her inspiring. I love Proulx’s character names. Quoyle, Bunny, Tert Card, Wavey. Quoyle’s capacity for love and his gentle, resilient heart win out in the end, which is surprising in a novel as unsentimental as this one.
Annie Proulx’s work (her Wyoming stories as well) teach me the art of writing about where place and character intersect.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I reread this novel t0 marvel at the spare language and desolation. There is nary a wasted scrap of a word anywhere. Like The Shipping News, it is true enough to human experience to provide for at least a hint of the hope for comfort and redemption. On the way there, every sentence is sleek devastation. Since first finishing it six years ago, I’ve never been able to go grocery shopping without acute awareness of the abundance on the shelves. Like Sula, this one sticks with me in a daily kind of way.
Honorable mentions, that I pick up again and again, and the lessons they teach me as a writer:
Damage by Josephine Hart (Plot inevitability. Characters are just fully headed to what happens and there is no stopping them. Absolutely devoid of sentiment.)
Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Voice, humor, pathos, truth. Really, impeccable voice throughout. I think of this character as a real kid I know, not a made-up person in a story. Required reading for anyone wanting to write YA.)
What’s on your To Be Reread pile? I’d love to know in the comments!