A Love Affair With Books

As a writer, there are hundreds of people that I want to be when I grow up. This number has gone up and down through various life stages, but has nearly always been tied to books.

As one of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy, says:

I take it as an article of faith that the novels I’ve loved will live inside me forever.

The first case of hero worship I remember having was for Louisa May Alcott. Most of her characters were amazing, but Jo (from Little Women) was the best. I read every Louisa May Alcott book I could get my hands on, whether it was the popular Alcott or some of her lesser known books. I can still tell you where I was when I first read Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, A Rose In Bloom and Under the Lilacs.

The real bonus of having a Kindle, in my humble opinion, is how inexpensive it is to read the Classics. I would have linked to all of the above books, but the Works of Louisa May Alcott (that would be 19 novels worth) are available on the Kindle for a DOLLAR. Yep, you heard me. One freaking dollar for hours of loveliness. I’ll wait while you fire up that Whispernet…

I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and read them voraciously but at some point they got tied into the TV shows for me. Wasn’t Michael Landon sooooo perfect as Pa? I definitely remember the books fondly, but not once did I dream of being Laura.

But Louisa? I wanted to be her for years. If you were a fan too and want to get some encouragement, here is a link to some of her most famous quotes. My fave?

Do the things you know, and you shall learn the truth you need
to know.

There are authors that make me stutter. Wonderful, glorious authors that I stare at like they are Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor and the British Royal Family all rolled into one person.

The list of my favorite authors is long and too numerous to discuss in detail, plus it changes all the time. Some staples in my life have been the usual Classics, plus popular authors like Margaret Atwood, Louis L’amour, Ayn Rand, Anna Quindlen, Lorna Landvik, Janet Evanovich, Ursula LeGuin, Jane Smiley, Nora Roberts, Julia Quinn, James Patterson, Karen Marie Moning, Anne Rivers Siddons, Jennifer Weiner, Jennifer Crusie and Marian Keyes.

(And yes, the entire time I wrote this post, I kept going back to the above paragraph and adding names. I can guarantee I still left some off – I’m counting on you to give them back to me in the comments. 🙂 )

I love Jodi Piccoult as well but I could never imagine being able to write books like hers. Her plots are amazing and her writing is fantastic. There is always that twist, such as the one at the end of “My Sister’s Keeper,” that you do not see coming. Jodi is one of the most incredible writers I’ve ever read but I just can’t imagine being her. Research is my least favorite part of the book and I can tell she does a mountain of it.

Note: Yes, I know…I just cracked my halo with all my research-loving pals.

Who would I LOVE to be compared to? There are two writers that give me a glimmer, style and subject matter wise, that I might get to be them when I grow up…like if I just read enough, write enough, study enough Craft and reach inside as deep as I can (oh, and work my A$$ off), then maybe I could be in their league. Even five minutes in their league would thrill me beyond belief.

Who are these rockstar authors? Pat Conroy and Barbara (Samuel) O’Neal.

Both of their books transport me, each and every time. And you know what keeps me spellbound, chasing the tail of their comet? The two of them get better with every book. Seriously.

After I read “The Great Santini” I was convinced it was impossible to write a truer, more visceral, well-crafted book. I thought the same thing after The Lords of Discipline, The Prince Of Tides and (OMG!) Beach Music. Then I read South of Broad.

This book transported me, made me laugh and made me cry. I fell in love with Leo, the main character, and looked forward to seeing every other character come onstage, especially the Poe twins.

Jenny Crusie said something I’ve never forgotten during one of the talks I saw her give: Every character believes it is their book for the entire time that they are on the page. The trick is to bring every character to life for the reader and allow them to rule the page while they’re onstage.

Pat Conroy does this in all his books but he surpasses himself in South of Broad. You know what else he brings vividly alive? Charleston (South Carolina), desegregation in the 1960’s and the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980’s. I felt like I was there, experiencing all three of these American milestones alongside the characters.

If you haven’t read South of Broad yet, run don’t walk. It’s said that Pat Conroy edits every sentence at least 12 times and it shows. This is a breathtaking book.

Barbara Samuel O’Neal, another of my favorites, has been writing novels since the early 1990’s when she originally published as Ruth Wind. Like so many of today’s bestselling female novelists, she started at Harlequin/Silhouette writing category romance.

Nowadays, she is a solid voice in Women’s Fiction. It’s writers like Barbara that wrote the genre into being, starting more than a decade ago. I am eternally grateful to these writers that wanted to go deeper into the heroine’s story than the confines of traditional romance would allow. In the process, they brought forth a new genre that I love.

I came across Barbara’s books when she moved over to Ballantine and started penning novels like No Place Like Home and The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue. By the time I read Madame Mirabou’s School of Love, written as Barbara Samuel, I was hooked. You could taste the food and smell the scents that Barbara put on the page. When I turn the last page of one of her books, I always think, “I want to be able to write like that.”

Then came How To Bake a Perfect Life, which I finished a few days ago. As always, Barbara is an enormously sensual/sensory writer. Her images leap from the page in all their sounds, scents and visual glory. Throughout the book, I craved the bread the main character made and I’ve decided to try out breadmaking myself with some of  her recipes.

Hunger pangs aside, the thing that made me genuflect in reading this book was the incredible use of theme and how she structured the novel around it. The imagery of bread and it’s baking was used in so many different ways, it made my head spin with ideas. I can’t even describe them all without gushing for another page and a half.

Still, here are a few examples without giving the whole book away:

  • pregnancy
  • mother dough
  • recipes (wisdom) that are passed down
  • bread starter and how it is handed down through generations
  • growing things (yeast, gardening)
  • crusty outer shell/soft center

And those are just the surface images that I can share without spoiling things. Every single element of the book tied back to the theme of bread being the savior of the main character. Each aspect of breadmaking was reflected in the characters of the book.

I turned the last page and, as we discussed in yesterday’s post, I had to flip the book over and start again to study up on exactly how she did that so well. It was such a well-written book, regardless of what genre you normally read. However, if your staple is women’s fiction, I recommend you run to get this book.

Whether you are a reader or a writer (or both), what are the books you love? (I understand that the faves might be from this month or from when you were a child.) Which writer do you most want to be when you “grow up?” Which fictional character has haunted you the most? Enquiring minds always want to know at More Cowbell.

Happy Friday!

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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26 Responses to A Love Affair With Books

  1. Stacy Green says:

    I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and I did pretend to be her as a kid. I also loved Little Women and Jane Eyre. As I got older, I discovered Anne Rice and was just blown away by her ability to create such a rich world of myth and characters. The same with J.K. Rowling.

    Once I got into the suspense genre, I’ve mostly gotten into mysteries and suspense. If I could ever be compared to great genre writers like Tami Hoag, Lisa Gardner, or Tess Gerritsen, that would be a dream come true.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oooh, yes, yes, yes! I loved Anne Rice’s books and was fascinated by her A.N. Roquelaire books (very X-rated) because I have a hard time writing sex. And the J.K. Rowling books were pure magic.

      I love those three authors (who I also believe started in Harlequin/Silhouette)!


  2. Linda Burke says:

    My current favorite authors are Lois McMaster Bujold, Linda Howard, Aaron Elkins, and Jayne Ann Krentz. I buy the books written by these authors without even caring what the book is about. I know I will enjoy them. There are others, such as David Weber, that I enjoy some of his books but some I don’t care for at all.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      How exciting, Linda! You’ve given me a few authors I hadn’t heard of. *rubbing hands* Never read Lois McMaster Bujold or Aaron Elkins. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  3. jessicaaspen says:

    So many books and way too little time. I too started with Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder, as well as so very many great authors I can’t even begin to list them. But that was back when I read non-stop. Now I wish I had that time back so I could add in everyone’s favs. I still think of LMA and how she and Jo both wrote penny dreadfuls to support their families and I think she would relate to many of the decisions modern authors have to face on where and when and how to sell their books. Thanks for the walk through your bookshelf.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      There’s just never enough time, is there? Jessica, it’s interesting to think about how she’d view the current publishing climate. I think she’d relate too.


  4. Laura Drake says:

    I DID want to be Laura. Oh wait, I AM Laura. This is confusing. I was horse-crazy, so Marguerite Henry was my favorite, growing up.

    Now? You nailed most of them, especially your top two. Conroy and Samuels/O’Neal. If I had to say who I write most like, it would be Barbara (only not as good – yet.) Ayn Rand is right up there, but I’m also a horror fan…King, McGammon, et.al.

    We all love different genres, but what’s in common, I’ll bet, is the feeling we get – holding a sparkly new book by a favorite author. You hesitate, not wanting to open and begin, because that puts you on the road to finishing it.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I loved all the Black Beauty books and went through a Roald Dahl stage and all the Frank L. Baum books. I loved The Stand by Stephen King but a lot of the horror books freak me out. I read Dean Koontz (and love him) but I get creeped with horror. Even for paranormal like Laurell K. Hamilton, sometimes her descriptions are too gory for me.

      And yep, so get that feeling when I read a sparkly new book. 🙂


  5. jamilajamison says:

    I read my way through the children’s section of my tiny public library by the time I was about 12, and my early favorites were many of the writers on your list — Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, with lots of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Jo was one of my role models, along with Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and made me believe that my smart girl nerdiness might one day be an asset, rather than a liability.

    When I made my way to the adult section of the library, I went through a huge mystery/thriller phase, (James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Crichton) — followed by a fantasy phase (Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Marion Zimmer Bradley), and of course, my love affair with 19th century literature that will never die (Austen! The Brontes!).

    One thing that was funny was that I gained this reputation in high school as the girl who read ‘good’ literature, and my homeroom teacher loved me for it. She would hover around me every time I pulled a new book out of my backpack (she about died with happiness when she saw me reading ‘The Fountainhead’). When I showed up around my last semester of high school with a trashy romance novel (chosen because I was crazy burnt out from AP testing, and college admissions and extracurricular activities), she about hit the roof. So embarrassing!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Totally in sync with the thriller phase, though mine also included Robin Cook. On the fantasy front, Terry Brooks rocked my world and I also loved Timothy Zhan’s Star Wars books. I was convinced that The Fountainhead was THE best book ever until I read Ayn Rand’s “We The Living,” which for some reason resonated sooo deeply.

      Your homeroom teacher needed to understand that trashy romance has beautiful messages too, not least of which is relaxing a tired brain. I love Eloisa James’ historical romance more than you could imagine and they totally started life with “those covers.” 🙂


  6. “Which fictional character has haunted you the most?” HA! The Phantom. Just did a post on him yesterday 🙂 I wanted to be Christine but so I could make the better choice and stay with the Phantom. Who am I kidding…still want to be Christine and stay locked up with the Phantom.

    Favorite authors, that’s a hard one. You’ve mentioned many of them but also Larissa Ione, Joely Sue Burkhart, Maria Zannini, Liz Fichera, Lisa Bergren, Diane Gabaldon, Madeleine L’Engle, Walter Farley, CS Lewis, Lynn Viehl, Sloan Parker, HG Wells…and those are just off the top of my head in no particular order. Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series is what turned me into an avid reader 🙂

    Great post!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good one, Raelyn! I haven’t heard or a read a few on your list so I’ve got to go chase those down. LOVED the Black Stallion series as an older kid…right around that horse loving stage so many 10 year-olds go through!


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  8. Great post, but I cannot even begin to name all my favorite authors. I grew up as a geek (oh wait, I’m STILL a geek) with a very “Great Books” regimen in my parents house–so it was the Brontes. Austen, Chaucer and Dante. I was allowed to read Margaret Mitchell, though, as a good Southern girl, I wrote about Gone with the Wind in my blog just last week.

    Who did I want to be? Katie Scarlett O’Hara when I was little. Katherine Swynford (of Anya Seton’s Katherine) was my teen idol. I love strong women–I always wanted to be like them.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ooooh, Gone With The Wind! I remember reading that front to back TWICE in a row my sophomore year of college. I cried so hard at the end of the book because Scarlett O’Hara was such a tragic dissatisfied character.

      I spent several years fired up over Rebecca Wells too – she is an a-mazing writer.


  9. BOOKS – I love books. I buy books l ike most women buy shoes and handbags. I would like to be James Patterson, James Rollins, Patricia Cornwell, Sandra Brown, or Mary Higgins Clark when I grow up…the same list applies for who and what I read the most. ❤ you, Jenny


  10. Google alerts brought me here, and what a wonderful discussion to encounter. Pleased and humbled. Thank you.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thank you, Barbara, for writing such amazing books. An additional word of thanks for being the RWA-WF Wise Woman…I still haven’t joined but I hear wonderful things.

      We appreciate you popping in to join the discussion!


  11. Barbara Hambly. Jennifer Roberson. Patricia McKilip. Robin McKinley. Lynn Kurland. Catherine Asaro. Tanya Huff. Laura London. Walter Farley. Madeleine L’Engle. Eloisa James. Linda Howard. Edith Layton. Jayne Ann Krentz in all her aliases. J.R.R. Tolkien. George R.R. Martin. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Stephen King. Dean Koontz. John Sandford. James Rollins. J.R. Ward. Elizabeth Vaughn.

    Haunting characters? A few come to mind. Cat from The Windflower by Laura London (aka Tom and Sharon Curtis). Aerin and Luthe from The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Starhawk from The Ladies of Mandrigyn, Ysidro from Those Who Hunt The Night by Barbara Hambly.

    My all time favorite haunting characters are Sandtiger and Del from the Sword series by Jennifer Roberson. Those two have so many layers it should have taken more than six books to tell their story and is it happens I heard more books were coming from that universe. Yay!

    Sorry,it’s just like being in a candy store. My eyes get so big and I just can’t stop with one thing. I want this one and this one and so on and…!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Angela, you rock so hard…my eyes got big just reading this comment! There’s so many new authors here for me to explore.

      Have I said it often enough? I ❤ Blogging! Love all this cool info I get from all you wonderful peeps. 🙂


  12. I’d love to be Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling when I grow up. Their passion shines through the page. They might not be the best of writers (Stephenie Meyer, in particular, got criticized a lot) but one could see how passionate they are when it comes to Harry or Edward. I’d love to write with that much passion and not be too critical of my work all the time. 🙂


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