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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