January 22, 2012
Heidi Lading Kiec
This week I read The Heroines by Eileen Favorite. I started reading it on Tuesday and finished it Saturday afternoon. I wish I finished before 7pm Thursday because I attended a book club for The Heroines and Eileen was there. Eileen lives in my old neighborhood and she and I know each other through a neighborhood women’s networking group I started with another former neighbor of mine, Emily.
The book club meeting this week wasn’t a regular book club. It was a one time meeting that Emily put together to encourage more people to read Eileen’s book. It worked. Twelve people came, maybe fifteen. The neighborhood independent book store, The Book Cellar, benefitted from this event by selling several copies of the book.
I’ve been in a regular book club since March 2011 and on a couple occasions I came without finishing the book. Inevitably, the ending is spoiled. But, that’s my own fault for not having read the book in the allotted amount of time. I’d rather talk about the part of the book I’ve read (and learn the ending) than not talk about the book at all. Of course the ultimate scenario involves reading the entire book before meeting with my friends and experiencing the surprising twists and turns of the book as I’m reading. In second grade a friend of mine educated me on the truth about Santa Claus, so I suppose I’m used to people pulling back the curtain on the mysteries of life (and literature), rather than discovering them myself.
But the book club this week was different. It was epic. The author was coming. And I’m one of the cool people who knew her. I’m also one of the douchebags who didn’t finish the book before Thursday. Still, I got to sit in a room and listen to a published author speak about her work and her process, and hear her read from her latest novel-in-progress. Inspiration tingled through my veins. People asked questions. Some prattled on more than others. There was tea. There was wine. There, to my right, was a woman with her own ISBN number. My hero. Or, should I say, my heroine.
The Heroines is an adventure, a look back on the life of 13-year-old Penny Entwhistle and the heroines from literature who (took a break from their stories and) stayed at Penny’s mother’s bed-and-breakfast. Rapunzel, Deirdre of the Sorrows, Emma Bovary, Franny Glass, Ophelia, Blanche DuBois, Scarlett O’Hara, Hester Prynne and Pearl, and Catherine Ernshaw all board for a spell at the Homestead. The weaving of classic fictional characters into a modern piece of fiction is ingenious. It crosses literary fiction with young adult and a splash of romance. It’s a delight to read and I am its newest advocate.
But I must confess…I walked away feeling dumber after reading it than when I started. Why? Because the majority of the classics from whence the characters are plucked are works I’ve never read. I’m sure they are all on a reading list for high school or college students. There’s no excuse for my ignorance. I read Hamlet and The Scarlet Letter (and saw movies adaptations of both books), but twenty years later my memory of Hester is vague at best. Ophelia offered the only familiar face to me in this literary fête.
This gross lack of knowledge on works of classic fiction plagues me. It tortures me with wet willies when I’m trying to write, encourages me to give up and watch shows like The Bachelor, makes me think I’m not smarter than a fifth grader (or at least not a college freshman). How am I supposed to be taken seriously as a writer if I can’t recount the classics in a cocktail party conversation? What’s more troubling is knowing I’ve read several of the “recommended reading” novels/short stories, but I can’t remember them. How is it I recall minutia from my boyfriend’s anecdotes but I don’t remember anything by Hemingway? If I have to start all over and reread the books my memory abandoned and then read all the others I’ll never write another word again. It’s a daunting thought trying to play catch up to people ten, twenty years my junior with literary knowledge at the ready. And how do people ten, twenty years my senior retain these plots? I haven’t even had children, so pregnancy or parent brain isn’t a factor. What gives?
I’m able to support myself, but I’m not yet able to support myself as a writer. That day may never come. Corporate communications, copywriting and public relations projects supplement my income. Who am I kidding, they are my income. Lately, the thought of teaching entered my subconscious. A lot of writers are professors. Then I read this book and imagined a scenario where 18-year-olds laughed me out of the lecture hall for not knowing Hamlet from Green Eggs and Ham. It’s terrifying. The problem is that most writers are professors of writing and/or literature. My degree is in Communications with a minor in Marketing. Yes, I took English and Irish Literature classes in college, but that’s a far cry from an MFA in creative writing or English or something important indicating you are qualified to teach at the college level. I haven’t even been published anywhere. What could I possibly teach these kids, these kids who already know about books, these kids ready to stone me in public like The Lottery by Shirley Jackson?
Then I take a deep breath, collect myself and think about two real life Heroines inspiring me. Eileen: for loving books, rereading certain ones every year, never giving up on publishing (or having her own family), writing every day, bringing wine to her own book club reading, and always offering me advice on the writing life when I ask her (which isn’t often for fear of revealing myself as a total amateur). And Emily: for daring to wear a sundress and espadrilles on the back of her husband’s motorcycle, knowing every man, woman, child and canine in the neighborhood, auditing corporate telecom bills like a rockstar and growing a business around this special skill, living in the city and teaching her children food comes from the ground, and being the first follower of my blog.
You two are the Heroines of Lincoln Square.
Tags: Book Club, Brothers Grimm, Eileen Favorite, Emily Bronte, Gustave Flaubert, Hawthorne, Hemingway, independent book store, life and literature, Margaret Mitchell, neighborhood women, Reading, Salinger, Shakespeare, Shirley Jackson, Tennessee Williams, The Book Cellar, The Heroines, Writing