Thinking about inspiration

Last night I stayed up until 4 AM to finish a book I started at bedtime.  I should know myself better than to start a book at bedtime; I lack to self-control to put a book down just because I have to get up in 8, 6, 4 hours, or in the case of last night, 2 hours.  Those late hours were reminiscent of late nights reading under the covers with a flashlight, but now, instead of a flashlight, I can read without disturbing my husband <much> with the low glow from the iPad.  Oh, and I don’t have to worry about getting caught by a mad Dad.

I didn’t have high expectations of the book, it was a $0.99 find that popped up on my Facebook feed called Definitely, Maybe In Love by Ophelia London, but upon reading her dedication–“To Jane Austen: Without you paving the way, this chick writer would not be here–something warmed in me and I was a little more eager to read.  I am in love with Jane Austen.  I read Pride and Prejudice once a year or so just for fun.  She is on my list of historical figures I would invite to dinner.  But London’s love of my dear friend Jane wasn’t isolated to her dedication: I wasn’t 30 pages into the book before I realized that London was retelling my treasured Pride and Prejudice, and I loved it.  I actually laughed aloud at the realization, startling my sleeping husband a bit.  To recognize such a well-loved story in a contemporary novel, well, it can be alarming.  Writers have butchered this story, and I am a pretty harsh critic, impatient with those that are poorly done.

I should confess here that my novel is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, too, and I’m not separate enough to tell you if my retelling is particularly well done.  But this retelling was fun, loyal to Austen’s intentions, and romantic enough to have me swooning for the male lead.

It’s funny to me how serendipitous life is if I’m paying attention.  I’ve been thinking about this lovely little novel all day (well, that and taking a nap) and how satisfying a retelling can be.  I’m not at all tired of the story of Pride and Prejudice, clearly, as I reread the text once a year, have watched every adaptation on film, have read half a dozen books that attempt to do the same thing.  Then I logged in to YouTube for the Vlogbrothers, and saw this:

If you’re not familiar, this is John Green, the intellectual badass and author of the very original and lovely The Fault in Our Stars.  He suggests that despite the notion that creative endeavor is solitary, lonely, and independent, those who create are  influenced, inspired, even ignited by a “network of influences so vast it stretches back further than human memory,” even without knowing it, and that “individuals don’t really create stuff so much as they process their influences and try to build upon them in the hopes that they can make stuff that will be helpful to others.”

This is a lovely notion to me, that there is space in this world for my contribution, even though it is so heavily influenced by much of what I’ve read and studied in 30 years of consumption.  There is a terrific book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor that AP English teachers love to teach to show students that, however much they want to believe that the blue curtains are JUST BLUE, authors draw on and manipulate the reader’s network of influences for their own purposes.

What happens if the writer is good is usually not that the work seems derivative or trivial but just the opposite: the work actually acquires depth and resonance from the echoes and chimes it sets up with prior texts, weight from the accumulated use of certain basic patterns and tendencies. Moreover, works are actually more comforting because we can recognize elements of them from our prior reading. I suspect that a wholly original work, one that owed nothing to previous writing, would so lack familiarity as to be quite unnerving to readers.

–Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

So Ophelia London used Pride and Prejudice to create a new story that resonated as familiar and fun, romantic and perennial, and I never complained about a lack of creativity on her part.  Instead, her creative endeavor made it impossible for me to shut off my brain before I had read every word, and regret when it was over.

When was the last time you stayed up all night to read a book?  What was the last book you couldn’t put down?  Can you bear to reread books that are especially poignant, funny, or romantic?

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5 thoughts on “Thinking about inspiration

  1. Allison, LMBO in my defense I was never mad that you were reading, but your timing was and still appears to be ill planned. As you well know the one book that I have read and reread and again reread is The Stand by Stephen King. It is by far too long to read in an all-nighter, but with some serious effort can be read in 3 days. The last book I blasted thru was by Lee Child, called High Heat. It’s the newest Jack Reacher novel, and Reacher is my new favorite dark hero. As for books I have reread, they are numerous, I do so because of the story, and to catch the parts I missed the 1st time thru the book. I have already admitted to having read The Stand more than once, but I suspect I have read it at least 7 times, almost as many times as you have read Pride and Prejudice.

    Of all the things you’re Mom and I gave you, your love of reading is one of the most important. Take care, Love Dad.

    • I remember starting The Stand late at night and not being able to stop until I got past the scary plague part. That book made me jumping at the creaks of the house or the AC powering on. That was one of those books I was reading until you came and turned off the light. Eeek. I don’t have the desire to read books that scare me like that anymore.

  2. I graduated high school in 1969, an era when kids were either on a college track or not (I was on the NOT side of that equation). The outcome of a test usually depended on how much I recalled from class discussion or if I was able to get a “Cliff’s Notes” version of the topic. Thus, I don’t think I’ve ever read Pride and Prejudice. So I might take this backward…searching out this modern alternative as an invitation to the original.

    • My students are reading it now… they complain because it’s slow going and boring. But I tell them it’s worth the wait. Wanda, you could probably pick it up now and enjoy it!

  3. Pingback: This is the end? | Burning Candles

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