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Of 1st Lit Loves: Nancy Drew, Harper Lee, and the "Easy" Faulkner

When I was a kid, the only time I wasn’t trying to break my little tomboy neck every single day was when I was reading, which was also every single day: I devoured Superman comic books from my Dad’s drugstore and all the Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew mysteries at my small town’s Carnegie Public Library. And they led me to "The Phantom Tollbooth," "Tom Sawyer," "A Wrinkle in Time," then "To Kill a Mockingbird" and beyond. But I wasn’t one of those kids that cherished one book; I cherished them all. It was the fact of reading, the new worlds I entered every day that mattered.

I read my way to a B.A. in American Literature, where my required reading was the classic Southern literature that would haunt my style and story-telling psyche when I began my own writing: Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the stories of Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, the “easy” William Faulkner such as “As I Lay Dying,” and the “hard” Faulkner, like “Sound and the Fury,” which I hated as a reader/later appreciated as a teacher/and much later surprisingly loved as a writer. These are in my ear and in my voice. I love them still.

And what of favorite books by modern writers? The touchstones on my own modern writing journey? There’s Pat Conroy’s "The Water is Wide" and Marilynne Robinson’s "Housekeeping" for language, Lee Smith’s "Oral History" for voice, and Larry McMurtry’s "Lonesome Dove" for sense of place, Amy Hempel’s "At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom" for brevity, and Margaret Atwood’s "The Handmaid’s Tale" for fearlessness. They keep reminding me what can be done with words. But my literary first love were those empowered kids’ series that made me first love the imaginary world of words as much as the real one.

(**written for "Literary First Loves" column SheReads.org Online Book Club. For more including a GIVEAWAY of Texas goodies as well as a signed copy of the novel, CLICK HERE)
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