So today we're throwing back to literary preferences of 1995, but first let's make a pit stop in 2013.
One year ago today, my debut novel Ugly Stick was released!
(This is at my signing event at the delicious Goodie Shop bakery in Upper Arlington, Ohio. The Goodie Shop ended up serving as my setting inspiration for "In Her Sweet Time," one of the short stories in April's Roots!)
In honor of this "bookiversary," Ugly Stick is free for e-book download today only (April 10, 2014) at Amazon.com. Stop by and check it out -- and if you've already read it, please consider leaving a review to help others find my work!
All right, then (wipes tear of nostalgia), pit stop concluded. Are you ready to jump in the Way-Back Machine and head to 1995?
The year was 1995. Yahoo.com, Windows 95, and my younger sister Julianne were all born. The Unabomber's manifesto was published by the New York Times, though it was decidedly not among my choice reading materials. Also, the Backstreet Boys released their debut single, "We've Got It Goin' On." (Yes, they
I wasn't writing much in the way of fiction in 1995, because my suburban elementary school had just introduced a whole new conception of writing to us: RESEARCH. We learned how to formulate and test a hypothesis -- though, granted, most of our fourth-grade hypotheses were along the lines of "I think I can fit more Peeps in my mouth than you can... THUS PROVED!" -- and I began to realize that writing could be much more than just making things up. Even now I still prefer "just making things up" almost two decades later, but it wasn't long after 1995 that I realized the value of research skills in fiction writing.
Here's what I was reading in 1995!
This isn't a very high-profile book, but it's stuck with me for nineteen years. It's a fictional account of life during the pre-Civil War unrest on the Missouri-Kansas border. Teenage Elijah (Lije) and his family begin the story as Kansan "Jayhawkers," helping escaped slaves towards freedom, until Lije's father is killed by Missouri "Bushwhackers" during a raid. To avenge his father's death and the destruction of their family home, Lije agrees to go "undercover" as a young worker-for-hire among the Bushwhackers, in order to gather information for the Union.
The book is historically accurate and gripping throughout -- what stuck with me the most was the frank concept of children and teenagers, not much older than me, participating in war. As an elementary school student in a first-world country, I was blessed to have absolutely no context for this. War was something far away, something long ago, something adults did. The closest I ever got to war was looking at my grandfather's World War II photos and relics. Jayhawker was one of the first books that opened my eyes to the fact that my childhood experience was a fortunate one, but not at all a universal one.
This is a classic. If you haven't read it, please stop reading this blog, get up from your desk or put away your mobile device, and hoof it to your nearest library. I'll wait.
Truly, though, The Secret Garden is a beautiful, timeless book. I dread the arrival of the generation of children that will be too screen-centric to appreciate this book and many others like it. It's not a swashbuckling adventure, or a terrifying page-turner. It's a story: one with deep, flawed characters, intricate descriptions of nature, and redemption that only comes with forgiveness and patience. The lovely, mysterious setting of The Secret Garden inspired my own first novel over a decade later. Maybe I'll take a couple hours outside this weekend to revisit my battered old copy. I enthusiastically suggest you do the same.
This book was the first book to change me. It took the new awareness that began with Jayhawker and smashed it into a new hemisphere. Unlike the former, The Giver is not a historical novel -- it's classified as science fiction -- but it presents humanity in a completely new context for young readers. The explorations of self-determination in an authoritarian regime, willing relinquishment of freedom in exchange for escape from pain, finding and protecting love in a place where love is essentially a crime... all put into a story that can be digested by a fourth-grader. It's a masterpiece. I could go on, but I won't. You should read The Secret Garden if you haven't yet, but you need to read The Giver.
So tell me, what books have changed you? And what were you reading in 1995?