Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learning to Ride

by Cathy Pickens

What books or authors have influenced me? Call me impressionable, but too many to count.

My family still gives me a hard time about claiming I learned to ride horseback from reading Trixie Belden books. Despite their ribbing, the first time I got invited to go horseback riding, I knew how to check the saddle and which side to mount from. Trixie left out what could happen if a crotchety horse, anxious to get back to the barn after a day of trail-riding, decided the shortest path ran through an old apple orchard with low-hanging branches. I didn’t hit the ground, despite the horse’s best efforts. Sometimes, despite the best guidance, you’re on your own.

Then there was the obscure school library book that described how the ancient Egyptian mummification process involved pulling the deceased’s brain out through the nose. For some reason, that captivated my 6th grade brain and convinced me I wanted to be an archaeologist. My mom convinced me I lacked the patience for that and I moved on. But I’m still fascinated by mummies and science. I’m still not patient, though.

This desire to try things for myself reinforces the wisdom of school librarians who keep things like The Poor Man’s James Bond off school library shelves. I didn’t discover how to blow up my neighborhood or poison the water supply until I was old enough not to try it for myself.

Margaret Maron’s and Nancy Pickard’s books convinced me I could write about a place I loved, even if it wasn’t a huge city or a Travel & Leisure hot destination. Harper Lee showed me that family and home are treasures and that books can capture special and difficult points in time – and perhaps change the world.

Nancy Drew and her successors V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone told me and others that women could be tough and could make a difference … and kick some fanny when need be.

Some books have made me wisely cautious about walking down dark streets or taking stupid risks. Some have made me laugh at times when my heart might otherwise have broken. And all manner of books kept telling me that true love existed – which I can now confirm, having truly found it.

Books have connected me with other readers of all ages. Anyone who doesn’t believe books connect should conduct her own experiment: Just ask someone about what she’s read recently or about what he’s reading now. Among readers, the conversation will take off in unexpected directions. (If among non-readers, alas, draw on your deep reserves of sympathy.)

I’ve outgrown the need to experiment with everything I read. But books still influence me and still connect me to others. My agent recommended Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I’m still thinking about the messages in that simply complicated story about a retired British major and a Pakistani shop owner. I still delight in Flavia and her sisters in Alan Bradley’s mysteries. I’m finishing an advance copy of The Sherlockian (to be published in December) and liking where it’s taking me.

So, what are you reading now? What’s connected you? What got you up on the horse – and what almost knocked you off? It’s the gift-giving season. Pass those books and book recommendations on!


Karin Gillespie said...

I really enjoyed this post, Cathy. I used to be a big Trixie Belden fan and I also enjoyed Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

I just finished Room by Emma Donoghue. Hard to believe that a book written entirely from the POV of a five year old could be such a masterful page-turner. I loved it.

River Jordan said...

Major Pettigrew is on my to read list. Finishing HOME by M.R. hopefully tonight. What knocked me off and put me back on the horse? The Tolkien books at a young age. i had never experienced like it all my young reading life.


JLC said...

It's both a joy and an education to read posts by women young enough to be my daughters (and an occasional man young enough to be my son). Books that did for you what books did for me are so often some I've missed. But my 13th summer I spent with an aunt and uncle who were members of the Book of the Month Club. From Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, The Forty Days of Musadagh (sp?), The Apostle, Anna Karenina, and several more, I got the notion that writing fiction would be the best possible use of my time. I didn't get around to it until my mid-fifties, but I know A. A. Milne, Galsworthy, Wallace Stegner, the legion of great 20th Century writers, and lately some relative unknowns have continued to prop up that conviction--only now I'm interested in poetry again for the first time in about 60 years to add to my late ambitions.
I just put Major Pettigrew on my reading list too.
Great post!

Cathy Pickens said...

Now I have HOME on my list! And JLC, thanks for even more reminders. Gone With the Wind ... still such a wow book! And Anna Karenina even before Oprah discovered her. Thanks!

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