I always get a little more introspective around the New Year. (I know it took me a few weeks to get this posted here, but, hey, it’s still January.) Lately I’ve been asking myself, “Laura” –yes, I do talk to myself and, sometimes, address myself–“Laura, what books have impacted you the most in your life? What books ended up being the most important?”
My answers surprised me.
Besides the Book of Mormon and other scriptures (which I’ve been imbibing my entire life), I would have to say the first books to really impact me were the ones I read when I was in middle school. Someone introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle and I was hooked. I read everything she wrote. Even her memoir about marriage (It was entitled Two Part Invention. I still think that is such a great metaphor.). Even her journals–especially her journals. On bad days I still pick up my worn copy of A Circle of Quiet, which I stole–really!– from my sister, and search for comforting passages. I’ve actually been known to sleep with it. As if it were my teddy bear. (We’ve already covered the fact that I’m a little strange, right?)
Other books that have stayed with me, that have changed the way I think, are Elie Weisel’s Night and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz (my parents say I have sympathy survivor guilt like a husband gains sympathy pregnancy weight), Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Carol Lynn Pearson’s Goodbye I Love You, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.
But the books that have meant the most to me are actually not books at all. Well, not in the technical/published sense of the word. The books that have meant the most to me are journals:
*My grandmother’s journals. Reading how she struggled through and survived her mood disorder gives me hope for mine. The first book I ever wrote was about her. (Well, if you don’t count the one I wrote in the fifth grade about my tonsilectomy. I even illustrated that one. Ewww.)
*My pioneer ancestors’ journals. If you want the real story about polygamy, go straight to the source! Although, I have to warn you, it’s not as salacious as some people would have you think.
*Even my own mother’s journal (which is actually only a few pages and I also stole–really!).
Those are the books I find my mind constantly returning to. Those are the books that have most shaped my thinking and feeling. Those are the books that mean the most to me.
So, while we are all in the busy-ness of our new resolutions and new ideas I hope we will all take a moment to sit down and pen a letter to our children or try to sum up the last year in a few paragraphs or just write down how you feel at the exact moment your fingers hit the keyboard. Just write something. Someone somewhere is going to want to read it. My grandmother died when I was four years old. She hardly knew me and certainly never had me in mind when she wrote. But I have benefited immensely from her experiences. She has been a much needed friend in some dark, dark times.
If one measure of literary greatness is influence then writing about yourself for those you love is a great way to ensure a long lasting literary legacy. I think it’s no coincedence that most of my influential “real” books are memoirs. There’s power in telling our own stories, warts and all, in our own words. In all probability, it is the most important writing we’ll ever do.