. . . in the ’60’s!
In my fiction writing class, Dr. H talks for most of the two and a half hours. That may sound like it would be boring, but that’s certainly not the case with Dr. H. He is fascinating. He has read and can recount in detail (and wonderfully acts out scenes from) every book known to Man — or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me. And, naturally, books and authors, with an occasional movie thrown in, are most of what he talks about — plot, setting, characters, structure, dialogue — what makes the story succeed.
He will name a book and then say, “Who has read that?” I will immediately start back through my memories, trying to think if I’ve read it. “Hmmm. Well, maybe I did 40 years ago, or was it that I saw the movie, or did I just hear a lot of talk about it (OR am I thinking of another book with a similar plot !) . . .” but by the time I’ve done that, he’s moved on and pointed at someone who did raise their hand and asks them a question about the plot, like how the book ends! (Certainly not something you can “bluff.”)
So, during the break in Tuesday’s class, I approached Dr H and told him (because I was afraid that by this time he was thinking, “This woman hasn’t read ANYTHING!”) that I was reluctant to raise my hand if I wasn’t absolutely sure I had read the book. And, what I was thinking but didn’t say was, I feared that if I did raise my hand, he might look at me and say, “describe the ending,” and what if I couldn’t remember the ending, or remembered it wrong! So, hopefully, I’ve convinced him I have cracked a book or two in my 61 years, it’s just that many of the ones he talks about are classics that if I read them it would have been during my school days, a looooong time ago. I ended the conversation by saying, “Remember, when you ask about a certain book, the other people in the class probably only have to go back through 5 or 6 years of memory — while I have to go back through 45 years of memory!” (I’m assuming most people start their serious reading at 15 or 16). I have no idea what he thought of that conversation, but I felt better just having had it.
I have started a reading list of the books he talks about because, even if I did read them once in the far, far past, he has renewed my interest and I would like to read them now — A Farewell to Arms, Murder on the Orient Express, Grapes of Wrath, The Good Earth, On The Beach . . .
Dr. H, himself, has written over 50 books (and lectures at writing seminars, by the way). So, he not only uses other writers’ works for examples, but also his own. This week, he read two descriptions of New York City — one he had written from the viewpoint of a starry-eyed young woman new to the city, and one from the viewpoint of a jaded cop looking for a killer. His point was that the writer helps set the mood for the scene by how he describes the setting.
He also gave an example of how an author’s own style influences how they describe something, by reading two descriptions of drought, first by Pearl Buck in The Good Earth and then so differently, but just as eloquently, by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
I could go on and on, and probably make your eyes cross, but I really am finding all of this very fascinating.
And, now that I’ve had a chance to tell Dr. H that my intentions are “pure” even if my memory is “murky,” I will still not hold up my hand unless I’m absolutely positive that I know how the book ends, because I have a genuine fear of looking foolish to this class of “whipper snappers” to a degree that I am sure I would not have with a class of my peers. Go figure.