Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Your literary autobiography

by Kathryn Miller Haines

At my day job, we’re currently hosting an NEH Summer Institute for Teachers, teaching them how to integrate music into their classrooms. One of the first things we ask them to do as a way to get to know them, is to have them present a musical autobiography, which consists of a few “artifacts” that help explain the role music has played in their life (an important album, a favorite song, a concert t-shirt, the scars left by your overly-zealous piano teacher.)

I love the activity because it really forces you to think about the way music shapes you as a human being and the various roles it plays in your existence. I was wondering if the same thing couldn’t be done with books. So I propose we use today’s blog as a way of sharing our literary autobiographies. What are some of the books and stories that have shaped who you are as a reader and a writer? Are there other writing and reading related artifacts that you’ve collected that help tell the story of your literary life?


(P.S. I’m a Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Pittsburgh’s Southside tonight reading and discussing The Winter of Her Discontent at 7:00. If you’re in the area, come on by! I’ll have cookies:))

7 comments:

Tory said...

I think the books that most shaped me have been the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I still use some of their phrases to get me through the day.

For example, the concept of "Accepting the adventure that befalls us" (_The Silver Chair_) is a great help for me when I have an anxiety-producing day. Somehow, it helps get me out of the mindset of anticipating what's going to happen and what to do about it. Particularly when plans shift, I think about allowing myself to embrace whatever "adventure" befalls me, even if it's not the one I anticipated, helping me stay "in the moment."

Gina said...

A literary autobiography. Wow. I could write 10,000 words on this, all stream of consciousness. I first became enthralled with the beauty of language through a story in one of my lower grade readers -- The Dark Pony. The pony was a metaphor for dreams that come in the night, and I still remember the line: The dark pony comes galloping, galloping.

Kathryn Miller Haines said...

I'm not familiar with The Dark Pony, Gina -- I'll have to check it out.

I love that you've adapted Lewis imagery to help you with anxiety, Tory. Very, very cool.

Annette said...

MY FRIEND, FLICKA, THE BLACK STALLION series, and THE ISLAND STALLION series all had a huge impact on my life, feeding the horse frenzy that became my world. Then somewhere along the line I discovered Mary Higgins Clark, Phyllis Whitney, and Agatha Christy. That was decades ago and I'm still hooked on mystery and suspense.

Great topic, Kathy. I'll be contemplating this one all day...

JennieB said...

My mother never read anything but romance novels. Violet Winspear comes to mind as a favorite. She usually wrote about dark, brooding, exotic men and plain, average women. The classic good girl/bad boy combo. I find myself reworking that concept a lot in my own writing. From there, I went on to mysteries - Agatha Christie, mostly, and the undervalued Quentin Patrick, who was (or were - it was a pseudonym for a group of people) one of the early American mystery writers. My mother had a copy of 'Death and the Maiden' that I just adored. As far as children's books go, Astrid Lindgren's 'Brothers Lionheart' was - and is - a favorite; now, of course, Harry Potter is, too. I wish I could write fantasy, I have a great idea for a series, but I can't seem to get it right, somehow.

Back in the 70s sometime (I was very young) I read a book by Margit Sandemo (Norwegian writer) about a group of students on the trail of a Celtic treasure, and that also shaped a lot of my own interests in reading and writing. My biggest influence has probably been Elizabeth Peters, though. I didn't discover her until 1994, but I've made up for lost time since then. My writing these days tends to be current day, but with ties to the past, historical mysteries, artifacts, that kind of thing.

Boy, I had a lot to say on this topic...

Angela Robinette said...

I blame Stephen King for missing out on the basics of pre-algerba in seventh grade. It was then that I began my late-night stints of horror. Cuddled under the blankets with a flashlight (no lie), I read The Shining, It, The Talisman, Christine.... Many years and hundreds of horror novels later, I became a mother to two curious children. Tucking them in at night, I would tell them twisted tales. Some stories I have put to pen and I share them with my high school students in English class. I have never been good at math (who cares?), but thanks to King and other authors, I continue to be thrilled by the macabre.

Kathryn Miller Haines said...

I think I have to put King on my list too, Angela. From the stories in Four Seasons to his advice in On Writing, he's had a profound influence on what I think about storytelling.

I didn't answer my own question, though I have been thinking about it;) Green Eggs and Ham by the incomparable Dr. Suess was the first book I ever read by myself and introduced me to whimsy. Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, which I worshipped,made me realize I could learn truths about myself through other people's writing. Crime and Punishment was the first work of "great" literature I read without being required to and enjoyed. And Moby Dick was a book that followed me through four different literature courses, all of which required me to read it. It wasn't until the fourth time that I think I actually started to see as a book and not a burden.