Christi Craig lives and writes in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer. She is an Assistant Editor for the online journal Compose, and leads workshops and critique groups at Red Oak Writing in Milwaukee. A finalist in Glimmer Train‘s Family Matters Competition, her stories have appeared online and in print. Listen to her most recent story in the January issue of The Drum. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or stop by her Facebook page.
This is hard to admit, but I haven’t always been an avid reader. There was a time when my nightstand was void of books. It was the early ’80s, and I was 12 and on a mission to record the whole of Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes,” index finger suspended over the pause button of my portable radio cassette player, ears locked on the DJ’s voice in anticipation. I had little time to read, so focused on catching the first notes of the song that led into her raspy voice. Books were the least of my passions.
Nowadays, I listen to music on Pandora, sans DJ. I record story ideas on my iPhone rather than songs. Our house is brimming with books: by my bed, on my desk, crowding the stairs, and stacked on the dining room table.
Last summer, I fell in love with Robert Goolrick’s A Reliable Wife, a New York Times bestseller that opens with a great line:
“It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.”
Electric. Then, in beautiful and concise prose, Goolrick’s novel unfolds through well-chosen details, revealing a woman and a man and the wreckage of their past, the unexpected attachments they form with each other. And, redemption.
I have two copies of Patricia Ann McNair’s book of short stories, The Temple of Air, and another collection of short fiction by Erika Dreifus, Quiet Americans. McNair’s stories are rich in character and place, and several, like “Deer Story,” left me breathless. Quiet Americans is much the same, full of tales about men and women searching to unravel and reconcile the complexities of their past, which for them is bound to the Holocaust.
I recently finished two books by Native American authors, Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter by Janet Campbell Hale and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. They were on loan from the library. I picked them up in the name of research, but I was tempted to keep them for longer than allowed. I am notorious for paying fines, and I hate letting go of a good book. Hale’s book is a memoir and Silko’s a novel, and both speak of ties to home and family, of the urge to leave and the unrelenting drive to return if only to uncover the mystery of self.
With two young kids at home, I watch for good middle grade books and young adult novels, too, especially for my son. He just turned 12, and he’s as hard a reader to please as I always was. But, he’s also at a ripe age for book learning. When we find a story that piques his interest, I jump at it. Often, he lets me read it to him. Those are the books I love best, the ones he shares with me.
We laughed through W.H. Beck’s Malcolm at Midnight, which tells of a rat who pretends to be a mouse so he can live the high life of a fifth-grade class pet. The story takes off when a favorite iguana goes missing, and Malcolm becomes the prime suspect. As he sets out to clear his good name, he uncovers his true purpose in life…or his rathood. I thought fifth grade was hard; I never knew all the goings-on with class pets.
We read through all four of Lois Lowry’s coming-of-age stories. Sitting down with Son, the story of Claire, a young girl assigned to the job of birthmother, we came upon the word “insemination” within the first five minutes, and I found myself fumbling through a conversation about the birds and the bees. Lucky for me, the world Lowry creates is far more exciting than any explanation I could offer on the science of babies.
And, we survived more than 2,500 pages of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle series about dragons and kindred spirits. When I say “we,” I mean my son survived, because for the last page and a half of Inheritance that I read out loud, I sobbed. Paolini weaves an amazing story of relationships, especially the one between Eragon and Arya, human and elf, and I knew what was coming. I warned my son as we approached the end that I might “tear up” a bit. Then, a few lines later I had to excuse myself so I could fall apart in the bathroom. He sat shocked, jaw open, asking me if I was laughing or crying. I said, both, because technically I was in hysterics in between sobs, thinking how ridiculous that I should cry so hard over a kids’ book when I knew how things would unfold but—my word—isn’t that how books work? You never know when a story will grab you so hard. Once you’re in, you’re in, and there’s no letting go, even after you’ve closed the cover.
A story is a story is a story. I say that in a good way. Memoir or fiction, short or long. We are bred for stories; we read them, we write them, we share them over coffee or at bedtime. Stories about place and family, redemption and love. They keep us in conversation and guide us through some new understanding of the world, even if that understanding is the fact that your mother is human and cries like a baby over the fate of a young Dragon Rider.
Talk about passionate. Who needs Kim Carnes when you have a whole world of books?
What book has grabbed you so hard you couldn’t let go, even after you closed the cover?