This week’s topic makes me think of the movie As Good As It Gets.
Because when I think of the books I wish I’d written, it almost sounds like jealousy. How come I didn’t think of that? How come I haven’t written a line so good I want to carry it with me always?
There’s Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Loosely inspired by the Japanese Embassy Hostage Crisis in Lima, Peru in 1996, Bel Canto takes place in an unknown South American country, on the night that the vice-president is holding a party at his mansion in honor of a Japanese business titan. The mansion is stormed by terrorists and all the guests are held hostage for weeks.
Being from Peru, my family and I followed the events of the real-life hostage situation very closely. I only learned about Patchett’s book much later, a couple of years after I’d already written (and temporarily abandoned) the first drafts of Chasing the Sun. But of course I was drawn to it, and I instantly fell in love with this book, which is now easily one of my top 10 favorites. Besides, I relate to it on so many levels, not just because I’m Peruvian, but because Bel Canto deals with themes that I wanted to explore in my own work: fear, terror, and the power of the human spirit to adapt to such experiences in order to survive.
“We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me. A scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
(I was in and out of many hip surgeries as a kid, and I have a large scar which, when you’re young, is a source of pain and insecurity. But I’ve grown to love my scar—I wouldn’t remove it, even if I could—and I could never articulate why until I read this line.)
And finally, there’s Room by Emma Donoghue. Told from the point of view of a little boy named Jack, whose only world is the 11 x 11 room he and his mom inhabit (unbeknownst to him) as captives, Room literally made my heart beat faster as I read it. I remember that I had to stand up and walk around as I read one particular scene, because my adrenaline was out of control from the suspense.
Reading these books, I often wished I’d written them, or that I could write like these authors. The themes, the language, the heart-pounding narrative…all were things that I realize now, inspired me.
Which brings me back to As Good As It Gets. Reflecting on these books reminds me of a famous line from the end of the movie.
It’s not jealousy. It’s just that these books make me want to be a better writer.
What about you?
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