Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley, California Office
Weather: High eighties
Because today is Labor Day in America—a national holiday—I’m going to indulge in a purely personal post for today. Tomorrow I’ll don my agent hat again.
For me Labor Day has always been the official start of a new year of sorts. When I was a child, it meant I started school in a brand new grade with a new teacher. The day offered a fresh start. I’m guessing I attempted to reinvent myself on Labor Day far more often than on New Year’s Eve.
The day after Labor Day seems to mark a rebirth of the publishing industry as well. The rigors of the two major book conventions, BEA and ICRS, are over, vacations are finished, the weather settles down into book lovers’ favorite autumnal patterns, and the publishing gears begin to grind once again.
So, if I’ve made my point that it is a new year of sorts, let me reflect on my big discovery of the past year: Despite the doomsday pronouncements of experts over the electronic future of books, I am more in love with story than ever before.
In the thirty years I worked dual jobs as a writer and doll designer, I always said that my mission was to “tell stories in porcelain and paint pictures with words.” My mission has never changed despite how the media for storytelling changes. Over the past year I’ve rediscovered the power of story in traditional books, in e-books, in audio books, in art, in music, in theater and in swapping stories with others.
I’ve already written about how attached I’ve become to my Kindle. The interesting thing I discovered is that I am reading twice to three times as many books for pleasure as I read before I started using Kindle. Where do I find the time? We canceled our television service January first, so that freed up some time. And because the Kindle is always along, I redeem many minutes that were wasted before.
Favorite books on Kindle this year? It’s hard to pick since I’ve read so many treasures, but I’d have to say, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
And I’ve always loved audio books. There’s nothing like snuggling into a favorite spot with a cup of coffee, listening to someone read a story. Now that I can instantly download books to my iTunes library instead of sending for audiobooks on tape, I’m listening to more books as well. I just downloaded Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen, read by Bianca Amato. Now I just need to find that cozy corner and a few hours. Other favorite audiobooks? Two short stories by Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast and Sorrow’s Acre, read by the inimitable Colleen Dewhurst; Out of Africa, also by Isak Dinesen, read by Julie Harris; and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat.
How about books designed with artistic typeface, printed on leaves of paper and covered in artful covers? I will ever be a book collector. In this new year I pledge to fill in my collection of favorite children’s illustrators—Patricia Polacco, Jan Brett, Susan Jeffers, Tasha Tudor and others. I will continue to build my antiquarian collection of illustrators—Jessie Willcox Smith, Ethel Franklin Betts, Maud Humphrey, H. Willabeek LeMair, Kate Greenaway, Elizabeth Gordon and so many others. I’ve almost finished my C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and Dorothy L. Sayers’ collections. And I’ve read dozens of wonderful contemporary books this year. Traditional books are still my media of choice for nonfiction.
So what about story in other media? My favorite story for theater this year was Wicked. My favorite for film? We’ve been on an Agatha Christie marathon this year. We’ve watched every single brilliant David Suchet Poirot film, including the film about the making of the films. In music, my favorite story song is Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley.
So all of that to say this: There is no need to be fearful about changes in the way a story is delivered. From the very first time someone sat on a stone and said, “Once upon a time. . .,” there is nothing more powerful than story. With each new year technologies change and markets change but story endures. If you are a storyteller, including you nonfiction writers who have stories of a different kind to tell with much more direct application, someone is waiting to hear your story no matter how it’is delivered.
So what stories have made a difference in your life in the last twelve months? And how were those stories delivered to you?