I seem to have focused a lot on two passions, writing and baking, while not so much on the third, reading. Today, after the lovely book I just finished, I will remedy this oversight.
This book reminded me of why I love to read so much. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is told entirely through letters, set in post-WWII England. In terms of reading, it is not an era I have much interest in, nor a style which I would have thought I would like. But that just goes to show how good writing transcends just about anything.
Was the prose genius or the concept exceptionally high-minded? No, in fact it was opposite of those things. I think the reason the book spoke to me was because the letters seemed so real, so extraordinarily ordinary. The characters felt as real as my own friends and neighbors, with their endearing quirkiness and plainness of speaking. Their stories seemed simple and heartfelt, and it is hard to imagine that these people weren’t out there somewhere, tending their pigs or baking their clever pies.
It reminded me of the way I felt when I read Charlotte’s Web as a child. I wanted to go to that farm, wrap my arms around Wilber and blow Charlotte a kiss. I laughed and I cried and I stayed up late at night with a flashlight under the sheets to discover the fate of my farm animal friends.
In fourth grade I devoured The Root Cellar, my first taste of time travel and the Civil War, and wished that I, too, had a portal to another world, another time. Bridge to Terabithia captured my imagination and I couldn’t put the book down as a 5th grader, so much so that I happily re-read it for our 6th grade English assignment.
As a lifeguard in high school, I discovered romance novels on the rainy days that found me in the clubhouse of the apartment complex where I worked. The shelves were stocked with dozens of them, and before long, I found myself praying for rain.
Once I headed to college, I was thrilled that the local library was one of the best in the county. It was a glorious multi-story behemoth that had a romance section spanning row after row after row. I can still remember the smell of that place – the only place in Columbia, SC I ever yearn for.
When I started writing, I found that I was reading less and less. Not only did I feel like I no longer had time (if I had free time, I wasn’t writing enough), but I was afraid that the other author’s voice would intrude on mine. For nearly a year, I hardly read at all. Where once I would cozy up to a book for an hour or two before bed, instead I would write until the wee hours of the morning. I was sad about it, but felt like there was really nothing to be done about it.
About the time I went to Nationals, I had begun to feel like my energy and zest for writing had started to wane. I felt like the writing itself was no longer as fun, or inspired, or as forthcoming as it once had been. While at conference, I had the pleasure of going to a workshop held by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who in no uncertain terms told us we must read. It was wonderful – a big-time, best-selling author telling me I had to read.
I spoke with her after the workshop, and we had such a lovely conversation that the first book I got from the library when I got home was one of hers. And you know what? It was fabulous! I started working my way through my bag of books, reading a little every night, rediscovering the joy and excitement that I had been missing. Before long, I made a commitment to join the book club meetings I had sporadically attended.
Which brings me full circle on how I found The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – it is the book club read for next month. This book, combined with many others I have read in the intervening 2 months, have made me feel invigorated in my own writing once again. That long ago passion that began when I was a child has flared to life once more, and I want to be a better writer because of it.
So now I am challenging myself to write in a way that will stick with the reader as well as this most recent book has stuck with me. Just as athletes thrive on the challenge of fellow competitors, I hope that by continuing to read more and more great books, I will get better and better in my own writing. Who knows, maybe someday my books will keep someone up until the wee hours of the morning, wanting to find out what happens while at the same time not wanting it to end :)
So, tell me dear reader, what do you recommend I read next? Do you find solace in reading as I do? If you are a writer, do you still find time to read?
Though I don’t have any Potato Peel Pie recipes, I do have a rather delicious Sweet Potato Pie recipe – I hope you enjoy!
Sweet Potato Pie
2 cups sweet potato
½ cup butter (1 stick) softened
1/2 white sugar
1/3 brown sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 unbaked pie crust
Boil (40-50 min) or microwave (about 6 min) sweet potatoes in skin. Run under cold water and remove the skin
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mash sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter and mix well with mixer. Stir in remaining ingredients and beat on medium speed until smooth. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until knife inserted into center comes out clean.