When I look at all the books on my bookshelves, I am struck that each one, prior to publication, represents years of some author's work. Each page, each sentence, was a labor of emotion, thought, and action, and of all the books on all the shelves in all the libraries, these books made it to my home.
These are not the same titles on your shelf, either. These titles reflect my own interests, pursuits, or required reading. Some were gifts or written by friends, books I was compelled to read. But I only keep the ones I like and currently, Goodreads tells me eight-hundred and forty books are mine. I don't count the books on my children's shelves or those that belong to my husband, nor do I keep account of all the books I've read and returned to the library, re-sold to a second-hand store, or lost.
I am a writer and a reader. I have interests that go beyond what I write. Some books are instructional and used for reference. Some are pictorial and pleasant to look through. Many books were half-read or I read excerpts during my college years studying history, philosophy, religion, biblical languages, literature, and Chinese culture. Would it surprise you to know I've only fully read a third of these books? I seem to buy them faster than I can read them!
I consider myself a niche writer, and to that end, I buy many books that fit within that corner of the market. It is a category so narrow, the bookstores don’t know where to shelve it; I’ve seen it in nature, travel, autobiography, even fiction. My favorite authors might be mixed in anywhere. When I first started reading and writing in this style, there was a lot of conflict about whether to include the genre in M.F.A. programs across the country.
Today, creative/literary nonfiction is filling the shelves and the authors are proliferating. This is a very good thing for a reader. But for a writer, the competition is stiff. My inner critic reminds me of this frequently. I worry about wasting time on something no one will read because someone else has written about that topic or for that audience. How can I compete with something fresh and timely when the population has seen that, done that? In this era of blog overload and redundancy, do I have a voice anyone wants to hear?
I look again at my books and remember the labor of each one brought into existence by even modern authors I wish I could emulate or talk with. I crave the conversations in my head sparked by Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Diane Ackerman, Kathleen Norris, Jill Kandel, and Nancy Nordenson. I’ve even tried reading Annie Dillard’s recommended reading list, the seminal books which sparked her thoughts. Those authors don’t excite me as much as she does. She took what interested her and created something new that I identify with and love to read.
As a writer, I cannot be Annie Dillard, or any other author I admire. But I do have a wealth of interesting subjects and resources, experiences and passions that only I can germinate into something new, in a soil where no one but me is planted.
What books are on your shelves and why? Which authors excite you and create a private dialogue in your head? Where is that conversation leading you to explore more fully?
Karen Miedrich-Luo is a writer and language coach who lives in Katy, Texas. She has a BA in Ancient Studies from the University of Georgia and a post-baccalaureate English Lit degree from the University of Houston. You can read her blog at http://www.miedrichluo.blogspot.com