One thing I’ve been told consistently by those who should know is that to be a good writer, one must also be a reader. And for most of my life, I was a good reader. Coincidentally, I also wrote quite a bit during those years.
Then life happened: baby, college (yes, in that order!), work, responsibility. Slowly, every year, my free time dwindled, and with it, my mental energy. It’s so easy at the end of the day to plop down on the couch or in a comfy bed and click on the TV, watching until you can no longer keep your eyes open. Add to that schedule a desire to lose a great deal of weight, which requires exercise. I try to do at least an hour a day, usually more.
I feel great physically. Mentally, I’ve been feeling quite sluggish.
But I’m remedying all of that. I’m so proud of myself this past couple of weeks.
It took me longer than it should have, but about two weeks ago I finished a book I’d been reading for close to a month. It was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Anyone familiar with biology will probably know her name. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who died at Johns Hopkins in 1951 or a very aggressive cervical cancer. Doctors took some of her cancer cells to grow in a lab. For years and years, keeping cells alive outside the body in order to study them and try to cure diseases was nearly impossible. But Lacks’ cells, named HeLa cells, were different.
Since 1951, the cells have gone on to be used to develop the polio vaccine, discover new and improved cancer treatments, they’ve gone into space, been used in testing nuclear bombs — you name it, they’ve been there.
And her family never saw a dime from the money made by companies selling them. And no one ever bothered to really get to know who Henrietta was as a person. Rebecca Skloot set out to accomplish that task.
I think it took me so long to read the book because Skloot loses focus about half way through. The book is supposed to be a biography of Henrietta and that’s how it’s billed. But it becomes more about Henrietta’s daughter. While that’s fine in its way, it affected the writing and the book’s flow because it seemed more like the book was writing itself than that Skloot was writing the book and controlling it. Anyway, it’s a very interesting and informative read. Even if you aren’t familiar with biology (like me!).
So, I finished that book. I don’t usually read non-fiction, but when I heard Skloot interviewed on NPR I just had to read the book. I’m glad I did. But then my momentum kicked in.
I finished the Lacks book and picked up Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. This was an online book club selection I never ended up reading for the book club. Mostly because I bought it from Amazon.com, it came to my house and I almost immediately lost it. It turned up weeks later buried under some CDs and DVDs on top of my little stereo. Oops!
Anyway, I read Snow Flower in less than a week. It was an easy read, but difficult. It was sad. It was more than sad — heart-wrenching is a better description. But it touched me in a way no book has in a long, long time.
I finished Snow Flower and immediately picked up The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I’ve seen the movie many times. Nicole Kidman most definitely deserved that Oscar. I didn’t even know it was a book until I saw the movie. The book won the Pulitzer. It was amazing. I highly recommend it. I read it in two days. I will probably read it again someday.
Needless to say, once I finished The Hours, I picked up Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway was Cunningham’s inspiration. I’m not very far into it, but I already see how he paralleled the stories. This fascinates me both as a writer and a human being. Because it shows how certain matters of the human condition transcend time and space. Underneath it all, we are all the same.
I spent the weekend doing some necessary projects around the house, so I didn’t get to read much. But I plan to finish Mrs. Dalloway this week and then move on to a new book. I’ve read most of the books lining my many shelves (I almost have my own library). Someday, I will be able to say I’ve read them all. Perhaps by the end of the year.