Judy Reeves is a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur who has written four books on writing, including the award-winning A Writer’s Book of Days. Her work has appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, and the textbook, Expressive Writing, Classroom and Community. She has edited several anthologies and chapbooks, including those born out of her Wild Women writing workshops, which she has led since 1997. Her latest book, Wild Women, Wild Voices, was released last month from New World Library. Here’s an excerpt. Learn more about Judy on her website and her blog.
In addition to leading private writing groups, Judy teaches at University of California-San Diego Extension and San Diego Writers, Ink, a nonprofit literary organization she cofounded. She also presents workshops at writing conferences and retreats internationally. Born in the Midwest, she has traveled throughout the world but somehow always finds her way back to San Diego, where she currently lives.
One morning not long ago as I lay in savasana pose on my yoga mat and opened my eyes to all those loaded bookcases surrounding me, I had the eerie sense that “the Big One” (I live in California) could happen at any moment and I’d be crushed to death by books. Well, for a writer and a reader, I guess that’s not the worst way to go, and even though mentioning it in light of the recent, deadly Kathmandu earthquake may be in bad taste, it tells me once again that I need to do some thinning. “Choose 100 of your favorites and let the rest go,” I was advised. Easy for you to say.
Meantime, the books by my bed are a changing landscape. At least the ones at the top of the various stacks and piles. The ones at the bottom tend to gather dust, but I’m so sure I’m going to get to them “as soon as” that they stay and every once in a while, I unstack and rearrange them. In that stack: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (Picador, 2009). A friend who loved this book bought it for me at a used bookstore in Grover Beach, CA, several years ago. Every time I open it and get past all the praise to the Cast of Characters and Family Tree, I get seized by intimidation and close it up again. (I’ve not seen the mini-series either.)
Another book, long in the stack of “next,” but yet to be picked up, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, (Knopf, 2005). I can’t say why this one hasn’t made it from beside the bed to in the bed yet, but just paging through it now, I’m tempted; it might be next. Except my friend and fellow writer Andrew Roe‘s new book, The Miracle Girl (Algonquin Books, 2015), was just released. I went to Andy’s reading at Warwick’s Books to get my copy and can’t wait to get inside. Eight-year-old Annabelle Vincent lies in a coma-like state, unable to move or speak, but because a visitor experienced what seemed like a miracle and believed it happened because of Annabelle, the crowds start coming. The sections Andy read were enticing and beautiful.
Later today I’m returning Meg Wolitzer‘s The Interestings (Riverhead Books, 2013) to the library. It’s a hefty novel, 450+ hardcover pages, which means I had to use a pillow to balance it while I read in bed. We meet the richly drawn cast of characters at a summer arts camp when they’re young teens and travel with them, forward and backward, through middle-age. The question—What is talent and what does it mean to have a little or a lot of it?—resonnates with me. My own novel (fourth draft, still revising) asks the question “What is success?” and also begins in the teenage years of the protagonist. When I take this book back to the library today, I’m also taking my list of books to bring home that I’ll place beside my bed. Unfortunately, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday, 2015) has 33 holds on the library’s 21 copies.
Other books that stay beside my bed for the occasional re-read or dive-into: Terry Tempest Williams’ gorgeous book, When Women Were Birds, (Picador, 2012), a meditation on mothers, women, nature, and history. This is a physically beautiful book, too, smallish, with French flaps and a title embossed in what resembles an old bookplate. Diane Ackerman‘s A Natural History of the Senses (Random House, 1990), is also a perennial, but I keep it in the bookshelf near my desk where I prepare for classes. It’s near the top of my list to recommend to my writing students. Every time I read or re-read a book by these writers, I consider myself a student.
I also consider myself a student of Mary Oliver. Current read: Long Life — Essays and Other Writings (De Capo Press, 2005). Lyrical and wise and graceful, Oliver writes in a language that reaches deep inside. She tells of emerging from the woods on a sunny morning (“pouring-down sunlight”) and is hit with a “seizure of happiness.” I know that feeling; here writer and reader connect in a shared human experience—which may be the reason writers write and readers read: that exquisite connection.
And to remind myself of what matters, I read again and again, Thomas Moore‘s The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life (Harper Collins, 1996). For me, more than his better known, Care of the Soul, this book serves as morning meditation and nighttime prayer.
Oh, and we haven’t even talked about all the old, withering, dog-eared copies of the New Yorker that I swear I’ll get to one of these naptimes or restless nights.
Who are your go-to writers? Why?