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their eyes were watching God

Question of the Month: Favorites

by Susan Henderson on February 4, 2013

What are some of your favorite books of all time? And what is it about those books that you love?

For me, my absolute favorites include Albert Camus’ The Plague, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain ( I couldn’t find the right size cover for that one so picked another I love), Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and yes, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.

I love these books for big and small reasons–for the dark journey or circumstances that brings the hero’s heart into conflict with itself, for the glimpses of light and dark in the world, for the experience of fully inhabiting both delicate and hardened minds, and for the poetry of individual sentences. (Okay, there’s nothing really so dark about Winnie the Pooh, but it’s some of the most amazing writing I know.)

Besides my all-time favorites, I also have a voracious appetite for gothic stories with Byronic characters facing big moral dilemmas: Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Dracula, and pretty much every Shirley Jackson story. Which leads me to the book I’m working on right now. My first novel was the one I needed to write. This time, I’m trying to write the novel I’ve always wanted to read.

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A quick interlude… here are my kids (on keys and guitar) and their two best friends playing jazz over the weekend. It was such a great show, and it’s such a great friendship to watch.

I’m grateful to all who blogged about my book this past month: Girlfriends Book ClubCure for CrankinessCure, part 2A Design So VastJocosa’s Bookshelf,Daisy’s Book JournalStorybook Careers, and my books, my life.

Okay, enough from me. Let’s hear about some of your all-time favorites!

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Monthly Wrap: More Human than Hero

by Susan Henderson on July 10, 2009

We talked about heroes this month, and every time I think of the word “hero,” I get that Mariah Carey song stuck in my head.

I heard that song constantly when I worked as a counselor at a rape crisis center because one of my teenage clients loved to sing to me. She liked over-the-top songs: “Hero,” the theme to “The Titanic.” Oh, she was an awful singer – I suppose she couldn’t help it because she was hearing impaired – but what she lacked in pitch, she made up in emotion.

When you’re a counselor, people come to you with expectations that you’ll be some kind of super hero who can save them from the complicated pain they’ve been living with, but you know better. And your clients will find out soon enough: You’re just two human beings sitting in a room together and hoping for the best.

Downstairs in the waiting room, week after week, were the parents of my singing client. They’d adopted her when she was a malnourished orphan living on the streets. They gave her a home, took her to a doctor to get hearing aids, found her a school, and brought her to me when she was date raped.

Heroes? Maybe not.

Imagine you’re a 25-year-old counselor who looks like you’re going on twelve, and it’s the day your singing client tells you that those parents in the waiting room have been molesting her. As you’re riding down in the elevator, you’re trying to find the right words, words that will become part of the court case, to explain why their daughter can’t go home with them, and what they can expect when the investigators get in touch.

If you think there’s anything heroic about stripping a girl from her family and sending her into the nightmare of group homes, there isn’t. The thing about group homes is that the workers and the residents there have that same quality as counselors and adoptive parents and all the rest: they’re human. Sometimes beautiful. Always flawed. Capable of great good, great evil, and mostly, great mediocrity.

Maybe the word “hero” can only truly describe a single moment, a single courageous choice that happened to get good results. Most times, there are no heroes, nor even heroic moments – just people trying (or not trying) their best.

If you’re wondering how the girl’s story ends, I don’t know. Counselors share a tiny room full of painful secrets and brave recovery for just a brief time. And then you just hope the kid’s doing okay. You hope she still sings.

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What I read this month: A whole lotta research books for the novel I’m writing, plus Naseem Rakha’s THE CRYING TREE (I’ll talk more about this beautiful book very soon), Zora Neale Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (What took me so long to read this book?! It’s glorious), and John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS (Two beautiful opening chapters about death and fairy tales and WWII before it becomes, much more clearly, a children’s book. I read it through anyway, hoping the ending chapters would hit the same notes as the first two, and I’m glad to say they did).

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Thanks to my July guest, novelist Lance Reynald. Thanks to all who played here, and to everyone who linked to LitPark: She Writes, Georgia McBride Books, joannamauselina, Mots Justes, Side Dish, Tayari’s Blog, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Amazon Blog, Stet, Alpha FEmale Mind, acparker, EllenMeister, spacedlawyer, lancerey, marilynpeake, artbizlaw, kmwss2c, BklynBrit, redRavine, LitChat, TerryBain, LanceRey, lorioliva, PD_Smith, nicebio, and zumayabooks. I appreciate those links!

Okay, off to dinner in the West Village with Amy Wallen, Eber Lambert, Neil Lambert, Rebecca Friedman, Rachel Shukert, Kimberly Wetherell, and Mr. H. Looking forward to it!

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