The things that shape us: Books & their stories

Green Darkness: The original cover from 1972. I remember it well.

From time to time I wonder if what I read as a child and young adult has had any impact on what I write today – or on what I like to read.  It would make sense that it would, since what we read and experience do influence us in many other ways (our beliefs, attitudes etc.).  It’s in my mind right now because I’m currently re-reading a book that was one of my favorites back in the early 1970’s and has stayed in my mind for many years (it has also made me wonder if books I loved years ago would feel the same to me now.)

The book is Anya Seton’s classic historical novel Green Darkness.  I remember the feeling of the book more clearly than the content of the story.  I remember being swept up in it as the characters move from the 20th century to the 16th and back.  It’s a bit of a romance I guess, but it’s the historical detail and the characters that paint the picture for me.  As I read it now, with the benefit of maturity (I guess), I’m struck by the writing this time around.  Seton is a classic historical novelist who died in 1990 but not before writing more than a dozen books, many of which were bestsellers, and several of which were subsequently made into movies.  But, back to my original musing: has this book that I first read thirty years ago influenced my writing?

I think it probably has – but it’s difficult to say which came first – the reading or the influence.  Why did I choose the book in the first place?  I think my sister recommended it, but if I were not interested in historical fiction I would likely have ignored her – God knows I have ignored other recommendations she has made over the years!

So, there must have been something that compelled me to read and enjoy historical fiction at that time – long before I ever considered writing it.  Somehow, though, that love of reading historical fiction has manifested itself in my love of research and writing in this area, and not because I studied history in university.  I did not.  So if Anya Seton’s work (after Green Darkness I read several others all of which I enjoyed), influenced me, what other kinds of books influenced me?  Or at least, what are the most memorable books I read over the years?

At the top of the list – more of a favorite than Green Darkness – is Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.  If asked to identify my favorite all-time book, this is it.  It is, of course, now a classic (originally published in 1938) and it has been made into a move more than once.

Eighth Moon: Today's cover with its sub-title.

I also remember a book called Eighth Moon by Sansan as told to Betty Bao Lord which I notice now has a sub-title (I’m certain it did not when I read it – I wonder if we need sub-titles these days to select books).  The modern sub-title is The True Story of a Young Girl’s Life in Communist China and it takes me back a very long time.

I know that I read a lot of books back then, but this is the only one I remember.  I can remember particular aspects of the book, like when she had to work in fields where human feces were used as fertilizer, and that’s going back a very long time in my life.  I read it in junior high school.

Eight Moon: The original cover -- the one I can actually remember!

I can only imagine how I found the story so divergent from my own life experience with this young woman who was about my age at the time of the story.

I can’t really articulate what it is about the book that it is the only one I remember from that point in my life, but I’m sure that remembering is reason enough to think it has influence.

What books influenced your work?

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3 thoughts on “The things that shape us: Books & their stories

  1. Jen Thompson

    Great post….. it’s so interesting to think about books and how they can affect us. What’s even more so is how differently they can affect us at different points in our lives. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to reread something I did many years ago, I’m too scared incase it tarnishes it for me…what if I don’t love it anymore?

    Also some good book reccommendations, ‘Rebecca’ has been on my ‘to read list’ for ages, maybe I should just bite the bullet and read it.

    Think I may give the others a try too…. thanks 🙂

    1. I love these conversations across generations — within ourselves and with others! It is a funny thing to consider re-reading. It’s not something I do very often, but occasionally a book from my reading past draws me toward it– and who am I to ignore those kinds of opportunities? I do, however, appreciate the concern about not loving it anymore. A consideration — depending on how it did, in fact, influence you. Thanks for stopping by — I’m looking forward to following your blog-journey. Patty

  2. Pingback: Books I wish I had written | Backstory...

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