Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn—that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness—that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.
― Jane Austen, Persuasion
How do you like to read? Randomly? Only fiction? Only print books? It’s such a personal, and yet intimately shared, experience. I’d love you to share your thoughts. At the moment, I’m reading Rachel Cohen’s Austen Years, A Memoir in Five Novels (she doesn’t explore Northanger Abbey deeply), and I love that her favorite is, like mine, Persuasion. It’s such a hopeful story of second chances.
Since I became a writer (not a given for most of my heretofore life) I’ve found that I’m a much more particular reader than I used to be. I read, now, to inform my writing in terms of style, subject matter, period, genre. When I was writing Old New Worlds, it was all about (or nearly all about) dual narratives like Moonglow by Michael Chabon; H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald; Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer; Possession by A.S. Byatt; Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.
With the current book I’m working on, I’m revisiting a classic as a jumping-off point, and my reading list has been Madeline Miller’s reimaginings of two Greek myths, Circe and The Song of Achilles; a few takes on Austen—Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Other Bennett Sister by Janice Hadlow, Longbourn by Jo Baker—and since my source is Shakespeare (a great borrower himself, after all) I’ve been enjoying Bill Bryson’s highly entertaining biography, and Maggie O’Farrell’s gorgeous Hamnet and Judith. This last has the added eerie relevance of being set during the Black Death in London, as we continue to deal with our own pandemic.
I know that many writers don’t like to read anything that might impinge on their own work (like a musician not wanting to listen to recordings of a work she’s performing, perhaps), but I love, love, love seeing how writers come at their work and tackle structure and tension and arcs and so forth.
I have a bizarre and rather heartbreaking story to tell you about the screenplay I’ve been working on: A Chain of Voices by André Brink. After acquiring the rights and working on the development with my production team in Cape Town for a year, having attached seven lovely actors to the project, and on the brink (no pun intended) of sending out the Presentation to potential backers, we were suddenly made aware of an obscure little article about a filmmaker in the U.S. who claimed to have the rights. It turns out that André himself signed away the rights 30 years ago, in perpetuity, and the agent who handles The Brink Trust had no idea about it. What are the chances of something like this happening?
Anyway, nothing daunted, I more or less immediately began diving into another project. With DB away for an extended weekend in western New York (and me, the “essential” worker, still severely hobbled by social distancing concerns, etc.) I have been putting in some near all-nighters, and I am close to finishing the first draft of a new screenplay. I haven’t yet signed the short form agreement, so that’s all I can say for now, but I do ask for your positive thoughts.
I’m writing to you on what would have been my father’s birthday. He liked to tell me that he and his twin sister were born in different months—she on August 31st and him on September 1st. We are also staring down Labor Day next week, which always makes me a little melancholy. I hate to leave behind the long, slow, lazy days of summer, even though it’s been such a difficult one for all of us and the world. It also means that the run-up to the U.S. Presidential election is upon us, and it threatens to be a particularly nasty campaign, what with the triple calamity of a pandemic, the economy, and being another race relations cross-roads.
I’m going to leave you with Wes Moore—Baltimorean, author, decorated US Army combat veteran, CEO of a poverty-fighting nonprofit—and the 4-minute interview we did about his latest book, Five Days. Although his book is set in Baltimore during the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death from spine injuries after being arrested by police April 2015, Wes speaks with the hope that we might be at a turning point in addressing injustice and inequality this time.
Be safe, and please be well.