By Alison Nissen
I am often overwhelmed by my own credentials. They aren’t really that impressive, but I fret, nonetheless.
I would review the literary canon at my collegiate library and think: Wow, how am I supposed to read ALL of that? Then I would take, from the shelves, classics. I would hold them, open them, smell them. I would rub their worn leaves between my fingers, caressing the pulpy paper. The musty scent of the stacks would engulf me and I would spend the next hour perusing Hawthorne, Hemmingway, or Homer. I’d review the Forward. I’d test the weight. I’d read the first and last lines. Then, I’d put it back.
I would wander back to my dorm and hunker down for a night with Fanny Flagg or Robert Ludwig to keep me company.
Why? Because I didn’t really want to READ the classics. I just wanted to say that I’ve read them. (Shh, let’s just keep that a secret between you and me.)
That was 30 years ago. Today, once in a blue moon, I’ll open a classic but for the most part, I’m happy to take my own professorial advice: Read, read anything, just don’t stop reading.
So, I read New York Times Best Sellers and novels written by friends and book club recommendations and (especially) things my kids recommend—except World War Z. I don’t do Zombies.
That brings me to what I want to write. When I close my eyes, I envision a somber library with bookshelves filled with classics and me, the embodiment of classic: refined and dignified. Then I open my eyes and look around. I see layers of photographs and half-written essays and the morning’s coffee cup. I see journals of notes and magazines and piles of suspense or chick-lit novels.
Maybe Hemmingway set out to write a classic, but as a friend often reminds me, look how he turned out—a bottle of booze in one hand and a gun in the other.
The question then to ask yourself is, when you close your eyes and envision the novelist’s library, does it match what you really want to read? One thing is clear, mine doesn’t.
Writing the book you want to read, then is simple. Look around your space. Write for the person who sits in your chair. Me, I’m writing for the crazy mess of a mom who is more than happy to read cheap literature. Who are you writing for?
Alison Nissen holds an MA in Literature from Norwich University and taught writing and literature at Houston Community College. She is also the Small Group Leader for FWA’s Lakeland Writers. She lives in Central Florida with her husband and has watched her four children blossom in to energetic adults.
Read Alison’s Tales from the Laundry Room at alisonnissen.com.