Last Sunday’s New York Times “By the Book” column featured an interview with Sherman Alexie.
The answer that most interests me today is the one to the following question: What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
“The Basketball Diaries,” by Jim Carroll. My dad gave it to me for my 15th birthday. He thought it was only about basketball. But it’s a book about heroin addiction, Catholic guilt, teenage sex, soul sickness and basketball. This book, above all others, is the reason I write.
The comment that struck me was, “This book, above all others, is the reason I write.” Made me wonder, made me form a question for myself is there a book that is the reason that I write?
And I think, not one book, but a stack of books, the stack that I read with Sarah and Justin almost every day. We did not have a huge stack, but we looked forward every day to our time with Curious George, Bartholomew Cubbins, The Cow Who Fell in the Canal, or Pierre, who only would say I don’t care. Those times made me want to write a story that could be part of someone’s good times.
There are other books that keep me writing–the classic Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney always makes me want to write about a character who is so real that she/he will travel with readers for their entire lives. A newer book My Father’s Village by Claire Nivola makes me want to look more closely at my own life for the real stories that are there. And No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson–at the top of my to-read list–I expect will reminds me that I can tell those life stories however they demand to be told, as history or as a documentary novel.
In my life right now there might be a story about cleaning out the cupboard under the sink. I’m always reminded of Little Meery in Paul Bunyan. Little Meery was consigned to the cupboard under the sink. Who else might live in such a place? Or there might be a story in the two boys who stopped by our house with their own leaf rakes last night, hoping to earn some cash raking our leaves. They did. I wonder what they did with it. Or maybe a story in the piles of clothes that seem to have taken themselves to our bedroom and just dropped.
Finding the possibilities is easy. Finding the persistence to develop the possibilities is the continuing challenge for this writer. But if the story is strong enough, demanding enough, it brings its own insistence that it be told, and that is the next thing to persistence.
And finally a question: what are the books that inspired you? To write? To change? To be who you are?