Embracing the Lightness

Our topic this week is the books that inspired us to be writers. I think I’ve covered this in previous posts: I’ve been a voracious reader since elementary school. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I finally decided to give noveling a try when I read Celeste Ng’s absolutely genius Everything I Never Told You, at which point I discovered two very important things: I’m not Celeste Ng AND lit fic is not (currently) my genre.

I’ve been thinking about genre a lot lately, actually. Last winter, one of my good friends read an early copy of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, and then called me up to congratulate me.

“I don’t want to offend you,” she said, “but this is the kind of book that people would just love to read on the beach.”

“Are you kidding?” I laughed. “That’s the best compliment ever. I wrote it that way on purpose!”

I think my friend was imagining college me when she nervously told me how fast she’d read the book and how much fun she’d had reading it. College me was a Serious English Major with Opinions on the 18th century British novel and also the enduring legacy of the 19th century regional American feminists.

Real, enduring me loves that stuff, but also Sophie Kinsella, Liane Moriarty, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Amy Poeppel (a former deb who has a new book out today!!). There’s an art to being light and readable and compelling people to keep flipping pages. “I read it in a day” is another compliment I savor.

Romance and so-called “women’s fiction” often get the shaft when it comes to “literary merit,” which I think has as much to do with sexism as anything else. I just read a gold-star, A+ example of “light reading” that also manages to discuss genre-discrimination and double standards in the literary world. It’s Beach Read by Emily Henry. In it, romance writer January Andrews arrives heartbroken at her late father’s beach house, determined to pen another of her bestsellers despite every emotional obstacle. Little does she know that her college creative writing nemesis, Augustus Everett, has taken up residence next door. His lit fic is “renowned,” and she’s sure he despises her happily-ever-afters. As they’re both struggling, they swap genres to reinvigorate their writing… and of course, fall in love.

With Beach Read, Henry proves she’s every bit the genius Ng is… and I read her book in a day. It’s the kind of accomplishment that inspires me to keep writing. I need that inspiration acutely now that I’m in the middle of a first draft of book three.

And, as that’s the state of affairs, this sentence will serve as conclusion to this entry. 🙂

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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