By Sherry Harris
As I was trying to think of a topic to write about my eyes landed on two books in our family room The Riverside Shakespeare and British Literature Volume B — not that I think my writing is anywhere close or influential as Shakespeare, Keats or Barrett-Browning. Both books are from my college days but I still pull them out to read. It made me reflect on other influences that have shaped my reading and writing life.
It started with fairy tales and went on through the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew. I devoted a whole blog post to my favorite childhood author, Maud Hart Lovelace. When I was young I wanted to be Pippi Longstockings — strong, brave and adventurous — and maybe a dose of Pippi creeps into my protagonist Sarah Winston.
I was lucky to grow up in a houseful of readers and books. Our bookshelves were full of everything from the classics to current literature. Also I had wonderful teachers like my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kibby, who noticed I was falling behind in my reading skills and worked with me and my family. I think she instilled my deep love of reading. My senior year of high school I was editor-in-chief of my high school yearbook and wrote a lot of the copy. Mr. Stedwell, the young journalism teacher, was patient and managed us, but he didn’t micro-manage us. I probably learned more through that experience than almost any other in high school.
In college I took as many lit classes as I could — thirty hours — a lot considering the college I attended didn’t have a literature major. But I loved every minute of them. A whole class on Mark Twain — the first time I read Tom Sawyer was when we were visiting family friends in Hannibal, Missouri. We visited the fence, island, and cave Twain wrote about. I did an independent study on women authors — Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Wharton and so many more. And of course my class on Shakespeare — one of my proudest college moments was getting an A on my paper about Queen Gertrude.
My outside reading consisted of Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart among others. Then I discovered Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, and Sara Paretsky. I’ve been lucky enough to meet all three of them. I know reading them has influenced my writing and reaffirmed my love for mysteries.
Readers: who are your writing and reading influences?
Lovely influences, Sherry. Your growing-up house sounds a lot like mine. I read Jules Verne, Poe, and Conan Doyle at an early age, along with the ones you named (except Lovelace). All of Alcott I could get my hands on. And biographies of strong women: Jane Addams comes to mind, and Clara Barton.
I loved biographies too. I remember reading about Molly Pitcher.
Great post, Sherry! I devoured Pippi and Anne Shirley’s adventures, but also my mother’s romance novels–Emilie Loring is probably the author who taught me how to understand a character from within. I never got over the love of a romantic storyline. When I hit junior high, a teacher turned me onto classics. Lorna Doone, Les Miserables, Jane Eyre, Tale of Two Cities-if there were star-crossed lovers, I was there!
We read all of the Emilie Loring books too! And now that you mention it, it is probably why I love a side of romance in mysteries!
Did you read Gwen Bristow?
OMG, Gwen Bristow, yes! Calico Palace is one of my favorite historicals! And her plantation trilogy was fabulous, too. She lived in Louisiana and worked for the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, so I’d heard of her on a local level. I have hard copies of most of her books and treasure them. TY for bringing her up! She’s a forgotten author who should be more appreciated.
Deep Summer was my favorite!
I’m uncertain if my reading has influenced my writing, but I’m sure it has influenced how a see the world. That influence would reflect in the style and tone of my writing. Oh–You’ve brought me full circle. My reading has influenced my writing–but I’ll never have Steinbeck’s voice. Thanks for the insight!
Very interesting! And you have your own unique voice and are a great storyteller!
Terrific blog, and a walk down literary memory lane. I enjoyed all those writers and more. To this day my library card is one of my prized possessions. Emilie Loring. I had forgotten about her. And books by Grace Livingston Hill, which have recently been reprinted. I remember my first Phyllis A. Whitney book. My aunt gave me a copy of “Mistress of Mellon,” the title of which raised my mother’s eyebrows. Books introduced me to the world and instilled in me a desire to travel, which I did. And look at the people I’ve met along the way.
That is the best part, Grace — the people we meet! I must have read some Grace Livingston Hill along the way too.
Lovely post! My mother was always reading, but she favored historical novels, which bored me. But I read almost anything, including books that were way over my head at the time (like The Once and Future King), and I must have absorbed something from them.
I hadn’t realized until now that I’ve always read series. Nancy Drew, obviously, but after I read Alcott’s Little Women I read all the rest of those books. The Anne of Green Gables series (or at least the early ones.) The Borrowers series, by Mary Norton. All the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers. When I got to Mary Stewart I was in heaven. I guess if I took away a message from all of those, it was that a story can go on, past the end of a single book.
I loved the Mary Poppins books. I wonder if those early mystery series is what hooked us?
Mary Stewart! Me, too. They were my “gateway” drug to books in the adult section of the library. Now that you’ve mentioned them, I have a hankering to reread. I wonder how they hold up?
Celia Garth is my favorite Gwen Bristow with Jubilee Trail and Calico Palace tied for 2nd.
I don’t think I read Celia Garth. I’m always happy to find another fan of Gwen Bristow! Now I think I have to find her books and re-read them.
I am scribbling down the names of some of these authors – I’ve never read Celia Garth or Emilie Loring, so I’ll check them out.
Nancy Drew is my guiding light and I devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was younger. I also started reading Agatha Christie at an inappropriately young age – most of it went way over my head but somehow they captured my imagination and haven’t let go yet!
As far as writing influences, do you remember the paper dolls that used to come in magazines? Betsy McCall? We used to have a grand time making up stories with them.
I love Betsy McCall. We spent hours cutting out paper dolls and their outfits. Celia Garth is the title of one of the Gwen Bristow books.
Betsy McCall–hours and hours. And my Barbie’s led a true soap opera existence. There were never enough Kens to go around, so lots of break ups, divorces and tragic widows.
LOL! Mine too and GI Joe was a little short for Barbie.
Oh, thanks for asking. LMM’s Emily books and Trixie Belden (the Julie Campbell 6). And for sure, Mary Stewart’s suspense novels.
I don’t think I’ve ever read the Emily books but after checking them out two minutes ago it sounds as if I would have loved them.
It’s not too late…. :^)
I have somewhere a picture of my family on the beach–my parents, me, husband, kids, my brother, sister-in-law, their kids and each one of the 10 of us has a book in our lap.
I got into mysteries early on–Nancy Drew, Christie, Sayer, but there was also the summer I spent alternating Fitzgerald and Faulkner. I was an English major, but my education is spotty–scattered across centuries and both sides of the Atlantic.
I know I never read Faulkner for fun. Shakespeare often, but Faulkner — I’m shaking my head.
Great topic, Sherry! I love, love, love P.G. Wodehouse, E.F. Benson and Martha Grimes. I’ve also got a tremendous soft spot for Margaret Yorke and Mary Stewart and Daphne Du Maurier. I adore books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lloyd Alexander and Roald Dahl.
Sherry, after reading your personal book travelogue, I realize that you and I have lives that are paralleled in many ways, from reading fairy tales and The Bobbsey Twins (… at the Sea Shore was my favorite), to college years focused on literature while not being a literature major. I took every class that was available that had a literature focus no matter what academic field it was. If one was not available I would do my best to tailor my papers to suit my preferred focus on reading books by and about women. And “…one of my proudest college moments was getting an A on my paper…” on a biography of Isadora Duncan for a history class.
My pre-graduation exit interview with my advisor (a great psychologist but not such a great advisor) went something like this:
He: You are a research psychology major?
He: Why were you not a literature major?
Me: I don’t know.
He: I see you are planning on graduate studies in psychology?
Me: I don’t know.
Now here I am retired from my career that involved all kinds of psychology and therapeutic counseling-related job tasks… doing what I refused to face all those years. Why? I don’t know.
That is amazing, Reine! Another thing to add to our list of similar lives — along with both having lived on the Shawsheen River and many, many other things! I took 15 hours of psychology classes — another love of mine!
And don’t forget Nutting’s Lake!
Love this Sherry! I devoured Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books as a kid. I used to play “detective” all summer, usually dragging notebooks with me. I guess the journalist in me was apparent even then….
I’m pretty sure I tried to solve a “crime” or two as a kid! But i love that you carried a notebook!
Great post and comments. Many of my favorite authors and books, starting with the Bobbsey Twins. I am always happy to see others liked Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. When I was in about 6th grade my mother gave the library authorization to let me check out almost whatever I wanted, and they were on my go-to lists. And I can still remember the magical time when I was always waiting for a new books from Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky or J. A. Jance. Met them all at Bouchercon – thrill of my life.
I forgot to mention J.A. Jance — she’s amazing too! I heard her speak at the National Book Festival in DC.
I must have been pretty traditional and middle of the road: Sherlock Holmes in elementary school, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, and later the traditional mystery writers like du Maurier, Stewart, Whitney, Stewart, Christie, etc. Wow. Lots of mysteries at a very young age!
Sherry, would you like to read Emilie Loring’s first, official biography? In advance of publication, I invite you to visit my blog: http://pattibender.com
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