A Childhood Bookshelf

 

 

Most writers are also avid readers. That’s usually how we got here. So when you ask us what authors we admire, who has influenced us, it can be a pretty long list. As in a “please stop talking now, I just wanted a few names” kind of a list.

In my case, I think I made it pretty clear that when I was a child and a teen, L. M. Montgomery’s books occupied a great deal of my reading time and imagination. And for some reason, when I’m asked about influences, I often think first about the books of my childhood. Now that I’m older I don’t reread books nearly as often…There are so many wonderful books I want to read that every time I reread an old favorite, I’m more aware that I’ve sacrificed reading something new in order to do that. The books of my youth, which I reread so many times, are part of me, part of my permanent memory in a way that books I read now as an adult will never be. Partly because I was reading them during my formative years, I know those old stories so well that they have almost become my own stories.

One of my favorites was Cynthia Voigt’s The Homecoming. The heroine of this series is Dicey Tillerman, a girl of twelve who has to find a way to shepherd her three younger siblings to an unknown aunt’s house when their mother abandons them at a shopping mall. It’s an incredible tale of adventure, of children surviving without the help of any adults, but I think the main reason it has stayed with me was how natural all the characters were, how real they seemed. After the little family finds a home with their grandmother, the story continues with the equally compelling Dicey’s Song, and then two books in which secondary characters get their own story. I still recommend these to parents looking for books that deal with real problems faced by young people, and I still study them because their characters are so well crafted, the writing so clean and vivid.

I’ve never been much for fantasy, but Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series was another set of books that I returned to many times over while I was growing up. Particularly the title work, which I think I just loved because it takes place during the twelve days of Christmas. But everything about that series appealed to me—again, it was all about children coming into their own and into unexpected power, but I was also drawn to the atmosphere Cooper created with her intelligent use of detail.

I think my imagination was very much shaped by my love of these books. The magic of the natural world intrigues me, and you can definitely find that in The Dream Peddler. The landscape I describe always acts as more than just a backdrop—it echoes the joys and heartbreaks of the people living in it, becomes a character in its own right. More than anything, I think this is what I paid attention to when I was a child. I’m as interested in trees as I am in people. I was drawn to books in which the landscape plays a heavy role, mirroring characters, challenging them, and cradling them, too.

 

 

As for authors I turn to now, the list is endless, but I’ll pick a few highlights. Daphne du Maurier, the queen of atmosphere, and Rebecca in particular. Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood—I was introduced to them through the Canadian canon taught at my school, and love both, particularly for the incisive ways they examine what it means to be a woman in this world. Rene Denfeld, author of The Enchanted and The Child Finder, because the beauty of her words and ideas is so remarkable, and it somehow makes bearable her unearthing of our darkest realities.

I love Donna Tartt, David Wroblewski, Toni Morrison, E. M. Forster, Alexander Chee. Elizabeth Strout, Anthony Doerr, Jane Austen, Jumpa Lahiri, Richard Wright, Ian McEwen. I won’t try to tell you why—just go read them and find out for yourself.

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Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master's degree in art history after a year spent in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.

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This article has 2 Comments

  1. I love this post for so many reasons, but mostly because it reminds me of the joy of reading in childhood, how those early stories become part of our DNA. And your remarks about landscape in literature remind me that you’re still a Canadian writer!

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