• Bridge Ladies

    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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I’m Not Happy When I Try To Fake It

What was your first literary orgasm? Roger W. Straus, venerable co-founder of FSG, claimed it was The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. I was always roll the trousers, eat the fuckin’ peach. I’m more of a Four Quartets gal myself. Today, at the psychopharmacologist’s, we were talking about the usual shit meaning my brain and my doctor quoted Eliot’s  “April is the cruelest month.” Well, I’m the cruelest patient and quoting one of the most famous lines of poetry in the world to make a “connection” to me is pathetic. Let’s agree: you won’t quote hideously famous lines of poetry to me (does so much really depend upon a red wheelbarrow?) and I won’t quote the DSM-IV to you.

Let’s get back to literary love. What was the first book that took you prisoner. That changed everything. I’m not saying it made you think that you had to write. Rather, that you could now live. For me, cliched as it sounds, Ariel. First love.

41 Responses

  1. Such a treat when a new post appears. I get all excited. I don’t usually comment elsewhere, but you draw it out of me, Betsy. Can’t help myself.

    Was thinking of that line all through April in Washington Square Park, and I just don’t get it. I guess it was a good month for me.

    I think it was THE FOUNTAINHEAD that first blew me away (talk about narcissism!).

  2. Yup, Ariel. Eighteen years old, AP English class, a landlocked town in Tennessee: love set me going like a fat gold watch.

  3. F Scott Fitzgerald

  4. It may be lowbrow, but I was in 3rd grade and for me it was The Black Stallion books. I needed to read them. I bought them, got them as gifts, took them out of the library, and read them over and over and over again.

    Were they great literature? No. But did they open my mind to the idea of creating a world, moving into it, building it outward, and inviting others to live in it too? Absolutely.

    My literary tastes changed and improved as I got older and more able to read. 🙂 But as far as the first book that changed everything, that series was it. I started creating my own universes shortly thereafter, and I finished my first novel when I was 13.

  5. Lo-lee-ta.

  6. Black Beauty. I was six. I still have it. Big, beautiful, it made me cry. I knew I was alive. I knew then I had feelings besides the angry, confused ones I carried about my nutty family. I could belong in the big wide world. It was glorious, it was an epiphany. And I wanted to make beautiful stories to stir up feelings like these for other people but also, maybe mostly, for myself. So I did.

  7. Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between us. I stood in the book store gulping it down, thought about stealing it, spend money I didn’t have on it, in awe and in appreciation.

    Something for your poetry, no?

  8. I’m hyperventilating over that picture. Oh my God. Ariel for me too.

  9. Jane Erye. I first read it when I was 10. All these years later, I remember where I read most of it – in the closet, with a flashlight – and how I felt as the story went along. The mystery, the characters, the setting – everything about Jane Eyre seduced me.

  10. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? – 9
    Cujo – 10
    The Shining – 11
    Gone With The Wind – 14
    Catcher In The Rye – 15
    The Great Gatsby – 16

  11. […] 19, 2010 from Betsy Lerner. Mine?  Maybe Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of […]

  12. The very first was I Am David which I read when I was… 7, maybe? I was obsessed with that book. I still have a copy and will never part with it. The first ‘novel’ I wrote when I was 13 was more or less a direct rip off of it, except it was also a rip off of the Magician’s Nephew and an episode of the X-Files. Good times. Also…

    I come from a sci-fi family and when I was in my early teens I discovered Piers Anthony and when I read On a Pale Horse and the rest of that series, it changed me. I can’t explain it, those books had such a weird effect on me…. all you reading types will probably get it. I was never the same and I still think about them all the time, even though it’s been years since I last read them.

  13. I’m not going to go with the first love, but rather the book that every time I read it pulls my heart out, rips it to shreds, makes me cry like a baby at certain points, and then, at the end, has me smiling: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana! OMG!

  14. Hmm. Okay, the first books that made me think I could live beyond the existence I had were THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. I’m fond of saying that those books saved my life, but then, I’m rather fond of sweeping, hyperbolic statements in general. I read widely as a child (I mean really widely, from DIANETICS and the I CHING–thanks, Mom–through Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway) but my gut answer to the book that comes in second to Narnia is Sidney Sheldon’s THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT. I loved that fucking book.

  15. Nancy Drew The Hidden Window Mystery.

    I so badly wanted a blue coupe and a girlfriend named George.

  16. Many great minds thinking alike here.

    Definitely the Narnia books.

    The last page of Gatsby left me gasping (and still does).

    I was so in love with poor self-hating repressed Tom Eliot. Wanted to fix him….I also am a Four Quartets girl, if I had to pick. Also Ash Wednesday.

    When I began to write in earnest, in my twenties, I was entranced with Marguerite Duras’ The Lover.

  17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  18. Ooh, ooh. Also, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, which I read when I was, like, nine or ten. Which explains some things, come to think of it.

    • Do you know the movie with Mark Knopfler’s heart-wrenching music? I’m a soldier in it going off to war, and I’ve got one line: “Bye.” A real tear-jerker, wow.

  19. 100 years of solitude. those last pages made me realize how a writer can create this incredible, breathtaking world that i can get lost in.

  20. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Between the ages of 10-20, I read it at least a dozen times. I was a rabid reader anyway (propped up textbooks on my school desk and hid novels behind them all day), but this book spoke to me like no other.

    I guess it examined everything I was experiencing at the time: a loss of innocence and a search for one’s place in the world. Even now, when I’m struggling to feel empathy for people (or restraining myself from strangling them), I remind myself that we watch the same sunset.

    • I once got detention when my math teacher busted me reading my novel for English class… You’d have thought they’d be happy that I was at least doing SOME kind of work… (Also, I think that qualifies for the nerdiest detention ever…)

  21. The mention of these books is making me remember things I haven’t thought about in years! Chronicles of Narnia saved me too. I read them with my youngest 2 this year and it was wonderfully bittersweet. My 9 yr old constantly has a pen and paper in hand. She has to be reminded of homework and bedtime and the pesky things that interfere. Think I’ll have this conversation with her and see what is going on in that beautiful little head.

  22. Gone with the Wind. It has everything story and life need–love, passion, drama, moral dilemma–all on an individual level and a social one. The first book that made me write came 30 years later but was similar in scope: Prince of Tides.

  23. A Fan’s Notes

  24. Sleeping in Flame
    by Jonathan Carroll

    I read it when I was about 16 and it sort of made my head explode. Jonathan Carroll showed me that life could be huge and scary or intimate and sacred – sometimes all together. For the first time, I saw that the mundane really could exist alongside the magical.

  25. Love this post! I thought I knew what book love was until I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close two years ago. The book isn’t without its flaws, but it still stands as the most devastatingly divine thing I’ve ever read.

    • I feel like I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time defending that book to the kind of people who would licklicklick JSF’s ass if they met him at a party and then stick their fingers down their throats when he turned his back. Clearly, I’ve been hanging out at the wrong parties. Wait, where was I? Oh, right…I loved it, too. How can you NOT love a kid protag who writes fan letters to Stephen Hawking?

  26. Little House in the Big Woods – I might have been 6 or 7.I can still remember the beautiful black and white illustrations,. I read the whole series. I WAS Laura.

  27. The first novel to own me was The Bone People, by Keri Hulme.

  28. The World According to Garp.

    It was actually the title that changed me most, the second I saw it at the Jewel Food Store, where I was a bagboy, in high school.

    (Luckily, the book reinforced the idea.)

    Ohhhhhhhhhh. THAT’s why I never seemed to click on this planet. I kept trying to force my life into THEIR version of it. The World According to Dave. Much better. I’ve never been the same.

  29. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

  30. So hard to choose. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Books were my first real love, I think. I remember just sobbing at the end of The High King when I was in 4th grade. I was crying because I had been left behind and I really just wanted to crawl into that book and disappear.

    Also, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I can remember feeling as if my brain was stretching as I tried to understand the abstract concepts.

    Another beautiful post, as always.

    • Me too with A Wrinkle in Time. 5th grade. Red library book binding. Didn’t want the story to end.

      Also, David Copperfield, Middlemarch, In Search of Lost Time and The Golden Notebook.

  31. The Hundred Dresses. It was the first time I was deeply touched by a book, not just entertained. I experienced profound sorrow when I realized that Wanda was gone for good and there would be no happy ending. I knew then that I wanted to do to other people what that writer had done to me– move them.

    • I loved The Hundred Dresses, too. The best book about bullying ever, and I loved Wanda’s father for taking her away from the pain (“No more holler Polak.”) I think Harcourt recently brought it back.

  32. A Princess of Mars, Tarzan of the Apes, Something of Value, Hawaii, Exodus.

  33. The first book to captivate me is a toss up between Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and The Red Pony by John Steinback

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  35. When we were old enough (five and six respectively) my father took me and my brother to the Grand Army Plaza library in Prospect Heights–it was our local library and we had no idea how lucky we were. I used to check out an illustrated edition of Anderson’s Fairy Tales, and Robert Graves Illiad and Odyssey retold for children so often I thought they were mine. As soon as they were reshelved I went and got them again until a librarian put a stop to it and told me others should have a chance. I sat there and watched for days and when no one else took them, I did again.

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