I have lingering flu weird head space. So forgive some wandering in this post. I've been living on Green Juice for days.
When I was in the 10th grade we had a Real! Live! Author! come give a talk to the budding writers among us. It was totally optional to go, and there were probably about 20 students collected in the library to hear her talk. I'd just handed in a short story that had received an unusually high mark (and I've probably not written any fiction as good since), and was told that I should go as well. So there I was.
The author was Elona Malterre. You might not have heard of her. Certainly the other students hadn't. But by some weird twist, I had. My Dad had bought and read her book, The Celts*. Since I was constantly raiding my Dad's library, I'd read it too. This was my encounter with a Real! Live! Author!, and I still remember thinking "Well if I'd have known it was her, I'd have brought the book for her to sign!" I was actually pretty thrilled to meet someone whose work I'd read. I'm still that way, and I'm totally in awe that people I call friends are Real! Live! Authors! It seems like a sort of magic to me, to be able to create a whole book.
Since this was 20 years ago, I don't remember terribly much. However, Malterre said one thing that has always stuck with me. She told us that every book has a time in your life. Even if you start a book and can't finish it, set it aside and pick it up again next year. Or the year after. As you grow and change, your perspective will be different, and that book will mean something new. She told us never to force yourself to finish a book, just wait until the time is right for you and that book. This was powerful advice. There have been a few books in my life (some Great Literature, some not) that haven't thrilled me on first, second, or third try, but when the time was right, I'd tear through them. The best example from my own life is The Crystal Cave, which I tried to read about five times between the 7th grade and University. Maybe it was all the Arthurian revival stuff I was reading in my Victorian poetry class, but things finally clicked, I spent a thrilling couple days with the book in 1996.
Sadly, I don't read like I used to. I finish almost** every book I start, owing mostly to my extensive use of the Toronto Public Library system, and the books don't have time to match my mood, or life path, or whatever. It no longer happens that I have no next-book scheduled and instead must peruse my shelves (or box of mass markets) for that book I didn't finish, but wouldn't give away (and there are still of few of those sitting there, so sadly neglected). I keep buying, too, and that pile just grows and grows. I still value what Elona Malterre said, though. It's great advice. I pass it on to others, when I can.
This post was sparked by an author who also does school visits, Jill Murray, and her post today on Bookmadam about how authors pay the bills. I don't know how common school visits are; I only ever remember having that one (my distant foggy elementary school past thinks we might have had one there too, but it was Calgary, and we didn't have a lot of local published talent). I think it's a great idea though, and something that really benefits the kids who get to participate. I didn't realise it was something authors did to supplement their income, but people need to be paid for their time, and to my mind, it's money well spent.
*I don't know where he came across it, and if it was just some freaky coincidence that she happened to be a local author. He and I both did most of our book shopping, at the time, in used bookstores, so the mass market paperback copy we had probably came from there. Sorry, Elona!
**Picoult is just really that bad.