VIOLA - A couple weeks ago I woke up screaming with my hands over my ears and my heart thumping against my ribs. Both of my dogs were sitting on the bed, looking at me with concern. Lately, I’d been feeling like I was waiting for bombs to fall, a soldier to knock on the door, or a long and terrifying train ride–time for a break from the World War II novels.
I am a certifiable reader. My preference is nonfiction. My bookshelves are a road map of my past obsessions, with multiple books on dog sledding, Bhutan, Mount Everest, Louis Leakey’s Trimates, and Shackleton's voyage on the Endurance. There are also stacks of books on dogs, elephants, chimpanzees, and various birds.
When I started writing a weekly column five years ago I had to set my reading aside for a while. But I missed being able to lose myself in a harrowing climb up Everest, the thrill of running dogs in the Iditarod, or following the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park.
Soon, I discovered I can't write, if I’m not reading. Reading keeps me learning. There is a connection between what we read, how it’s written, and how we develop our own writing styles. I’ve found that reading well-written books by a variety of authors is helpful, and it’s exciting to begin noticing the differences in technique.
This summer, I started reading young adult (YA) books. I was interested in seeing what kids were reading nowadays. I wasn’t disappointed. I started with ‘Wonder’ because of its popularity and quickly moved on through numerous others, including ‘The Girl Who Drank the Moon,’ ‘Number the Stars,’ ‘Wolf Hollow,’ ‘Unbroken, Beyond the Bright Sea,’ ‘The Thing About Jellyfish,’ ‘One for the Murphys,’ ‘Fish in a Tree,’ ‘Amal Unbound,’ ‘The Wild Robot,’ ‘The War That Saved My Life, The War I Finally Won,’ ‘Out of My Mind,’ and ‘Hello, Universe.’
When I tired of YA books, I picked up Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See.’ This novel was a game changer for me! I couldn’t put it down. I’d reread whole pages. There were no words wasted, and I felt like I was there in France during World War II. Doerr’s writing about a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German orphan, Werner, was captivating. When bombs were exploding I’d wrap up more tightly in my afghan. Hearing a noise outside, I’d break out in a sweat.
Once the window into World War II opened I wasn’t in a hurry to close it. The historical novel ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky,’ by Mark Sullivan, introduced me to an Italian teenager, Pino Lella, who wanted nothing to do with the war. Soon that changed as he led Jews over the Alps to help them escape.
I thought I’d had enough war to last me a lifetime but a friend suggested I read ‘The Nightingale’ by Kristen Hannah. Again, I was hooked. The story takes place in France in 1939 and was a page-turner. After that, I became engrossed in ‘We Were the Lucky Ones,’ by Georgia Hunter, inspired by a true story of a Jewish family determined to stay together during the war.
By this time, I wasn’t sleeping well and had started having nightmares. I was also diligently following the current world news, worrying about which countries we were offending, afraid of potential consequences. Realizing that my obsession with the war had to stop, I moved on to read ‘Educated,’ ‘A Stranger in the Woods,’ ‘Dead Mountain,’ ‘The Book of Emma Reyes,’ and ‘Feather Thief.’
Recently in my writing class a friend casually handed me ‘Keeping Faith’ by Jodi Picoult. I’ll never read this book, I thought. An end table in my living room was already stacked with books waiting to be read.
But I packed up ‘Keeping Faith’ last weekend, when Dane and I were going out of town. I read in the car, I read during a road breakfast, I read by headlamp next to the campfire. I continued reading, while Dane slept beside me in the tent. Dear tolerant Dane was starting to get peeved at my incessant reading, but I couldn’t stop. Luckily, Dane reads even more than I do, so he understood. On Sunday morning, the last day of our trip, he rolled over in his sleeping bag to say good morning and I exclaimed, “I finished!”
We drove home through a light mist and colorful trees. Our conversation centered around religion, faith, miracles, motherhood, and relationships, all themes from the book I hadn’t been able to put down until I finished.
I’m glad I found my way out of the war, and someday I’d like to read something light and fluffy, but for now, I’ve already ordered the novel ‘Before We Were Yours,’ by Lisa Wingate. I’m thrilled to be on a reading roll and can only hope it helps me learn more about writing. Tonight, I plan to read myself into a peaceful slumber, the dogs by my side.