Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rediscovering Reading

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

2 eggs

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.


  1. Great blog as usual! It is hard to read when all you can concentrate is writing...but I find that reading when I get a block really helps. At least for me it does, :)!

    Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is a great book by a local author. I know they have it in the library or you can borrow my copy when you come for lunch tomorrow.

    Can't wait to see you!

  2. Thanks, Marquita! You are the second person to recommend Garden Spells, so yes, I would love to borrow your copy! Looking forward to see you :)

  3. It IS harder to read when you've committed to writing. I have a tendency to analyze too much, and when a book makes me forget to do that -- pure bliss!

    But I believe that you need to read so you can replace the words that you've written on your own books, to kind of refill the writing well. :)

    I will second the recommendation on Garden Spells, as well as her second, The Sugar Queen. As for romance, I devoured the last Kresley Cole book, and am tempted to re-read it right now. LOL I'm also a fan of Kris Kennedy's medievals (even tho that's not my fave era!)

  4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my favorite books. I loved how simple it was as well.

  5. SO true how hard it is to "find time" to read as a writer -- when you think about it, it's like saying it's hard to "find time" to breathe. The word "inspiration" actually comes from the same root word as "to breathe." We must make the time to breathe in the inspiration! I am speaking to myself, because I too forget sometimes how important it is until I begin to gasp for air like a fish on dry land. When that happens, I go to my old standby's that always make me happy -- THE SECRET GARDEN, ANNE OF GREENE GABLES, A WRINKLE IN TIME -- I know I am a grown up, but the imagination in children's books is unmatched. GARDEN SPELLS is great as is THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON. If you want to be truly moved, read THE BOOK THIEF. Probably the best book I've ever read.

  6. Amen to the over-analyzing, Donna. It takes a really good book not to knock the critiquer out of my head and just enjoy! Thanks for the recommendations - I can't wait to read them (and thanks to Marquita, Garden Spells is in my possession as we speak!)

    Torie, I'm glad that you enjoyed the simplicity of the book as well!

  7. Thanks for the great comment, Kara! I agree that sometimes children's books are the best place to turn for a little literary magic :) I remember you talking about those last two books - I have added them to my TBR pile. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Wonderful blog as always, Erin. I really don't have anything to recommend. I'm interested in seeing what the others say to get ideas for my own TBR pile!

  9. Thanks, Clarissa! Hopefully, we will both get some great suggestions :) Happy reading!

  10. My own writing flows so much better when I regularly read other material. To make sure my own words dont dry up I make a commitment to at least read 1 book of fiction a week, often outside the genre I write in. It used to be an indulgence - now I think of it as necessary therapy. I love getting lost in someone elses world.

  11. Here, here, Heather! (or is it hear, hear? I never know...) I'm trying to do the same thing, only with a few historicals sprinkled in now and again. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  12. I love Gurnsey! Have you read THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN by Kate Morton? You would LOOOOVE it. I told Kara about it last year but I don't think she read it. Check it out!

  13. Thanks Lindsay - I hadn't heard of that one. I'll be sure to check it out! I'm so excited to have so many books to choose from now :)

  14. You know, I used to worry about an author or composers style intruding on mine as you said, but I think its true that no man (or woman) is an island, so its natural that our influences would be assimilated into and shape our own voice. I guess that makes choosing the right books really important! When I can find the time, I'm reading More than a Stranger (Erin Kelly), The Prayer Directed Life (Mark McLeroy), The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross), some book about mystics Kara sent me (can't think of the title), and lots and lots of children's books with me kiddo. Can't wait to see how all those shape me. Enjoy your next book, whatever that may be!

  15. So true, Andy!

    As for my upcoming reads, I have Garden Spells in my hands, but after getting an advance copy of Lydia Dare's upcoming book The Taming of the Wolf, it went right to the top of my list! I meant to read a chapter before bed last night, and read 6, lol.

    I hope you find your reads to be satisfactory (especially More Than a Stranger ;)), and that your kiddos enjoy reading with you. I love when the next generation starts to discover the wonder of books!