Sunday, September 30, 2012


There are two books that I hold sacred. Not because they're the greatest books ever written, but because the impact they've had on me, personally, has been so great. These are books I'll always own, and always return to. Anyone who knows me well knows the first one is Louisa May Alcott's Little Women - the book that made me take notice of the fact that writing is, in fact, a thing worth doing, and that women can certainly do it. Also, that simple, true stories from life are worthy subjects in literature. The beauty of Little Women, in so many ways, is that nothing happens. Not really. It's not a book about an accident or a tragedy or a life-changing event. It's a book about everyday family life. Girls grow up, hearts are broken, babies are born, loved ones die.  Ordinary people interact with, argue with, make friends with, and fall in love with other ordinary people. None of it is earth-shattering.  It's not drama - it's life as we know it. And what a surprise that it makes for great reading.

But I'm writing, today, about the second book that I can't do without: Truman Capote's The Grass Harp.  Not as many people are familiar with Capote's novel as are with Alcott's. The two books couldn't be more different. If Alcott wrote about the small things that make up a life, Capote wrote (in this novel) about the big events that change a life and shift a person's trajectory, forever. I love this book in almost the way I love a good friend. It is not overstating it to say that reading this book for the first time changed my own trajectory as a writer. For one thing, it's humbling. It's simple and understated and, yet, as big as life. The prose is beautiful. The characters come to life. This is the book that made me take note that, oftentimes, the most important character in a story is the setting...that great things can happen when a writer embraces the natural world...that literature of the American South is as full of paradoxes as the American South, itself. The first time I finished reading this book, I immediately turned back to the beginning to read it, again - it moved me that much.  I return to this beautiful, little book often. I've lost count of how many times I've read it. I've read it during times of great sadness. I've read it when my life was in flux. I've read it while traveling to far-away places. I've read it when I've found myself unable to write. I've read it when something about the natural world has truly moved me. I've read it out loud to a beautiful woman, who begged me not to stop until it was done. I will always return to this book. It feels like home.

Happy birthday, Truman Capote.

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