Monday, December 23, 2013

Reads for Writers: The Quiet Center Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

        (I am reviewing a book written for women by women.)

        Most women are busy this time of year: cooking, cleaning, decorating, providing hospitality to out-of-town visitors as well as hosting and attending parties on top of all our regular responsibilities—so much to do, so little time for ourselves.

        When do we have time to read, reflect, and write?

        If you have a moment to read at any time, pick up a copy of The Quiet Center: Women Reflecting on Life's Passages from the Pages of Victoria Magazine edited by Katherine Ball Ross. Noted writers including Diane Ackerman, Madeleine L'Engle, Jane Smiley, and many others write about Childhood, Motherhood, Grandmothers, Sisters, Places of the Heart, Rituals, In the Company of the Past, On Writing and Writers, and The Quiet Center of One's Life.

        These thoughtful essays are a delight to read. They bring back our memories even as we read about other writers' lives. We can write essays of our own in answers to theirs—a wonderful communal activity.

        In Suzanne Berne's essay "The Gift of Memory" on page 36, she writes, "Nostalgia, after all, is our remembrance of focused attention, our romance with the particular. Without the odd glimmering detail, childhood would be a faded blur, lost to us…"
        Doesn't that make you want to dash down the glimmering details of your own childhood before they fade?
        For those who think they have no time to write, consider Tovah Martin's essay "So I Knew Rachel Carson," author of the multi-award winning Silent Spring on page 280. "Somehow, the gentle lady…found the courage to stroll out of her tidal pools, pick up her cogent pen, and wage war for what she knew was right. She had scant history of defiance, and her life was already overflowing with pressing personal responsibilities…single-handedly raising a young orphaned nephew while simultaneously fighting a losing battle against cancer."
For writers, this quote jumps out in Marian Seldes essay on page 304:
        An older writer, Sarah Jewett, advised the young Willa [Cather], "you must find your own quiet center of life, and write from that to the world that holds others, and all of society, all Bohemia; the city, the country—in short you must write to the human heart."
        Brilliant advice given to a talented writer who wrote short stories, poetry, essays, nonfiction, and novels. Cather went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.
        Patricia O'Toole's essay, "The Romance of Old Books," on page 322 sums up every avid reader's greatest joy. "Happening onto a favorite story is like an unexpected encounter with a friend too long unseen: You seize your good fortune and make time for each other. The rest of the world must wait."
        A reader of this blog asked my opinion of this book and I'm so thankful she did. The Quiet Center is a timeless classic that should be reread often. It's inspiring. It's comforting. It's a kindred collection of essays I recommend that 'you make time for and let the rest of the world wait.'
What books do you make time for?

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