We are What We (Have) Read

Maybe somewhere out there is a writer who wasn’t also a voracious reader from the very earliest basic-reader days (show of hands here:  how many of you got scolded in first or second grade for “reading ahead” in reading group?), but most of us start out as bookworms and stay that way.  Proto-writers have the mental digestive systems of goats, or maybe sharks — if it comes our way, we’ll read it — but  we seem to find some books especially tasty and nourishing.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, for example.  I know I’m not the only female writer out there who imprinted on Jo March at an early age.  I loved Jo for her temper and for her unwillingness to be humble and “make nice”, and I seethed with rage on her behalf when those qualities lost her the chance to go to Europe with Aunt March.  If I’d lived in a house with a finished attic, I would have gotten myself a thinking cap like Jo’s and worn it when I went upstairs to write.  (Alas, we lived in Florida, and later in Texas, and all that we ever had in our attics was a fan to cool the house.)  I read Little Women multiple times, and then I went on to read all the sequels.

I didn’t just identify with Jo, I wanted to be her when I grew up.

For a young writer, there are far worse role models:  Jo doesn’t just think about writing, she actually writes, and writes a lot, starting out by emulating other writers and moving on to find her own subjects; she shows her work to outside readers, and takes their advice when she finds it good; she submits her material for publication; she doesn’t let rejection stop her for long; and when she achieves success she handles it with grace and good will.

Jo March doesn’t just survive; Jo wins.

(Do young male writers have their own equivalent of Jo March?  I feel sorry for them if they don’t.)

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