North of New York City, along the edge of the Hudson River, there is a small estate lying between the railroad tracks of Metro North and the broad expanse of the river.
Chapter One, Ghostlight, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
One October, I made a pilgrimage, with hubby as chauffeur and adventure partner, to the Hudson River Valley in New York State, just on the strength of one New Age/Occult book that I’d read. It was the book that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy, because it told the kind of story I’ve always hoped could be true: that our world holds more in it than our humdrum everyday lives.
The author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, led a very controversial life, but she was a damn fine storyteller. I loved her style – very readable but incredibly evocative, even poetic in spots. The story in Ghostlight is fascinating, but what hooked me even more was the setting, which was so well-portrayed that it was almost a character in itself.
So that year, my hubby and I decided to do a road trip, and I suggested the Hudson River Valley. You might be more familiar with this part of New York State as the eerie locale for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Its author, Washington Irving, built his own house there in the town of Sunnyside. He was basically a superstar in the region, and to this day you can see his influence all over the valley.
Irving found great inspiration in the mysterious atmosphere of the Catskill Mountains, and when autumn rolls around the entire area takes inspiration from his stories to create one of the best places to go for Halloween-themed travel.
Great books live on in our psyche long after we’ve finished reading them, and this week’s blog is a celebration of National Book Lovers Day, celebrated in both Canada and the U.S. It’s not an official holiday, just an acknowledgement of all the enrichment books have brought to countless lives ever since they were first created.
Storytelling became an art long before the written word, through the generations of cultures who passed along knowledge, both practical and spiritual, to those who came after them. Even early rock art told stories.
Stories began to be inscribed on stone and clay tablets. And not just stories – records of things, from inventories of goods to spells and curses (as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead) to lists of kings and other important historical facts.
Stories were created to explain how the world works. Cultures like the ancient Egyptians and Celts and Greeks had elaborate tales about the supernatural forces they believed were the cause of things that went wrong.
As science was developed, books were written about discoveries. But others were written just to entertain – to thrill, to haunt, to tell tales of love and romance and chivalry.
My parents loved to read to me, and I developed a love of books from all those wonderful imaginary journeys. I fell in love with the stories of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe at an early age, and when I was fourteen, an ex-boyfriend introduced me to The Lord of the Rings, which I read non-stop during my Christmas holiday break. Oh how I wanted to visit Middle Earth, to see dragons and elves and magical silver. (When we travelled to New Zealand a few years ago, one of the great highlights was a visit to the Hobbiton movie set, including mugs of hobbit ale at the Green Dragon Inn.)
That’s the power of books, that they can make a place or a story come so alive for us that we don’t want to leave.
I still love to hold a good book in my hands, curled up with a cup of tea, but I’m also quite happy to download ebooks to my laptop when I can’t get them in our local bookstore. My hubby and I have lately been downloading the Nero Wolfe mystery/crime series of novels by author Rex Stout. These novels capture the atmosphere of the 1950s, from gumshoes to slinky dames, through the eyes of quirky genius Nero Wolfe, who rarely leaves his brownstone in New York City, solving crimes with his remarkable brain while his assistant, debonair and smart-mouthed Archie Goodwin, does all the legwork and his chef Fritz cooks remarkable gourmet meals. We’ve read most of them before, but are now revisiting an old friend and adding the substantial canon (40+ books) to our collection, all compactly stored on our laptops.
Writers also learn to become better by reading great books, and it doesn’t have to be a ‘classic’. Not everyone’s into the works of Tolstoy, or even J.R.R. Tolkien. Whatever genre you like to read, enjoy the experience, escape with it, learn from it, let it fire your imagination.
In future posts, I may start doing book reviews, and I’m also thinking about creating a book club for budding writers, to discuss books we like (or hate), what we loved (or didn’t) between their pages. We’d ready any genre, because I think a good writer can learn something from all of them, and because a diversity of writers would make a great book club. If you’re a new writer and would be interested in joining such a club, let me know!
“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” JK Rowling