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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Got Two Reasons Why I Cry Away Each Lonely Night

When I was in high school, I met a woman in my poetry class. We were from opposite ends of the earth, meaning she was an athlete and I was a deadhead. We discovered our shared love of poetry and entered into a clandestine friendship, exchanging our diaries and poems for each other to read. After graduate school, I would meet a prose writer with whom I formed an instant bond. We could say anything about each other’s work. Gloves off. Bring it on. Twenty-five years later, she is still the little bird on my shoulder, still my first reader. I remember reading in Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, that it wasn’t until her husband pronounced a new work good that she believed it to be true. I was very touched by that and imagined his scotch going all watery while he paged through Play It As It Lays, while Joan basted a capon in the kitchen. I (I generally counsel against sharing new work with spouses or anyone you’re fucking or want to be fucking unless you’re under 25.)

Who is your first reader? To whom do you trust your first batch of pages or poems and why?

17 Responses

  1. I’ve got this one friend who’s always in my head when I write. When I’m good, she says “you were born to write this. This is GREAT.” and when I’m not, she says, “Umm…” and I know. She’s my beau ideal of a reader.

    And in return I read her draft book about the importance of immunization development in bioterrorism, and tell her whether or not someone like me can understand it.

    It works.

    You were born to write Forest for the Trees, btw. I know–flattery is the very best butter. But my friend tells me when I’m on, and when I’m writing in a genre or voice that doesn’t work for me. That Forest voice–authoritatively depreciating, if there is such a thing–well, I’m not the only one who liked it, obviously.

  2. I’m still searching for the ideal first reader. I’ve a few good friends but many of them are too complimentary and a few good groupers who are sometimes too critical (if there is such a thing) and a good guy who can send me into a right tailspin by not proclaiming there’s at least one thing he likes about the piece. Too many cooks and not enough people to enjoy the broth maybe.

    • i have had the same experience.

      maybe we just need a match.com for readers. that way we can state what we like and don’t like in a potential reader (not too artless, not too amiable) and establish relationships that way. It’d surely remove the guesswork.

  3. Anyone who will cut through the bs and give real, honest feedback. Hopefully someone who loves to read – though i sometimes feel those people are becoming more and more scarce.

    I’ve made a few acquaintances at writing workshops over the years who give better feedback and have more follow-through than friends or family. They’re my go-to readers.

    But for a good laugh I always ask my mother, for whom English is a second language, because she falls asleep half way through then awakens and says, “you are very good with English.” Every time. And I love her for it …

  4. I don’t usually show my first pages to anyone until they (the pages) are out of diapers, and then they go to my critique group for a thorough pat-down.

  5. I haven’t found one yet. I’ve had the same experience as Lynsey above. I did show my last ms to my husband who works in publishing–big mistake. He sorta kinda liked it, which is NOT what I wanted to hear (I wanted to hear OMG–this is amazing!!). I know I have to show my current ms to someone when it’s finished, but this time I’m afraid to!

  6. I am lucky enough to have a couple. My mentor who is a former professor of mine from college and a friend and reader for over a decade now (meeting her was alone worth the exorbitant tuition payments). And a brilliant friend from a post-college writing workshop that I took in NYC many years ago. Both believe in me as a writer but are not afraid to give it to me straight. I have a couple of other good reader pals as well but the two I mention above are both also novelists whose work I LOVE, which gives you a whole other level of trust.

  7. You want to know you make sense to other language loaded humans. Sure. But, I no longer email the second after I save and name the file. No one will love me more after they read it, nor will I feel more secure in my right to write.

    For revisions I trust the judge in my head, a combination of a man I’ve worked with for the last five years, the best creative mentor I’ve ever known, and the terrific readers I found around his table. I trust their guidance in process knowing that in the end I’m on my own.

  8. Thanks for mentioning Didion. I’ve always loved her. The memoir tore me open with sorrow for her losses.

    I’m still looking for my first reader. The person I’d like to have as my reader, a brilliant writer and writing professor, has a learning disability which makes him read very slowly. He’s currently working multiple jobs so that he can afford to have a kid, so he has very little time to read my stuff; I’d have to wait weeks or months to hear back from him.

  9. I’m definitely over 25 but my first reader is my wife. She has an MFA and is a professor. She’s over 25 too!

  10. My husband is my first reader, of which he is excellent.
    (we are both over 25, sadly)
    He is tremendous at catching my plot holes and line editing.

  11. I’m still looking for that first reader. I have readers I consult on and off, but no single reader has emerged as THE GO-TO READER in my head … yet. Hope to find one someday.

  12. That imaginary reader thing never worked for me–not as a specific person. But one of my profs quoted Ezra Pound saying something like, Write for the smartest person you know.

    That clicked for me. I quit trying to dumb it down. I don’t imagine a specific person, but sort of a generalized person who can figure shit out.

    The approval I most want, and imagine, though, is my mentor, Lucia, now dead. I never think of her while I’m writing, but I do when I’m through.

    My first reader is often my friend Dave, or you.

  13. My first reader is a friend who picked up my unfinished, unedited, unchecked for grammer and spelling by even the computer. Imagine my embarrassment. And, he read it out loud. Okay, embarrassment I could handle until he started to up his volume. We were sitting on his stoop outside of his studio on Ludlow and Rivington. When he stood up to read to the passerby’s on the street, late afternoon, I began to back up almost in tears. As he read further a crowd started to gather around him listening intently which caused him to read louder. Then a man with a guitar started playing LAYLA…the tittle of my book. After about three chapters and a clapping audience he turned to me and said, “now thats how you birth a book in New York!”

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