When I was a kid, I never wanted to be a ballerina or an astronaut. I wanted to be a writer. I wrote all through school. My undergraduate degree is in Writing. I kept a journal for twenty years. Yet I haven’t written a creative word since 2006. I often wonder if I’m being a sell-out because I have a totally square day job. *
Then I heard author Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone, My Own Country: A Doctors Story) at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Monday Night Series. Verghese is an Infectious Diseases doctor who also happens to have an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. He spoke eloquently about having a calling in life. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham is what inspired him to become a doctor. A very specific quote from it motivated him to write:
“Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. The only thing to be careful about is that you do not pay more than a shilling for the shilling you earn. You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer.”
Verghese believes that if you have a job you love and pays the bills, you’re darn lucky. (Because despite the prevailing wisdom, suffering doesn’t make you more creative.) And if you are able to write too, well, that’s gravy.
So. I’m going to write. Here are the books that inspire me to write.
For the language
- A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis de Bernieres, an odd love story about the seduction of storytelling.
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, terrorism and opera.
- Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”
For the characters
- City of Thieves by David Benioff, a Jewish soldier in Russia, a dead German paratrooper, larger-than-life deserter Kolya.
- World Without End by Ken Follet, a peasant’s wife, a knight, a builder and a nun.
- Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, the beautiful slave Zarité, French aristocrat Toulouse, Haiti, New Orleans.
For the story
- Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefons Falcones de Sierra, the building of the Santa Maria del Mar in 14th Century Barcelona.
- A Blade of Grass by Lewis DeSoto, two young woman surviving a civil war in post-colonial Africa.
- So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, a darkly moving (and funny) story about the failure of the United States health care system.
For the voice
- Room by Emma Donoghue, the voice of Jack, a five year old boy.
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak, the voice of Death (quite kind, actually.)
- Dog Boy by Eva Hornug, the voice of an abandoned Russian toddler and a pack of wild dogs.
Hopefully I write the next Great American Novel and get filthy rich. However, in the event that I don’t, at least I have a job I love.