PERSONAL ESSAY | KNOW THYSELF, HEAL THYSELF
My Literary Evolution
How my taste in reading material has evolved
I remember reading encyclopedias as a kid. I was curious and I wanted to know everything about everything. I read a lot of autobiographies, books on Native Americans and dinosaurs. I discovered Shakespeare's plays while watching them on PBS (Public Broadcasting) and so off the library I went in search of more. I fell in love with his sonnets as well as his plays.
I never read age-appropriate books as a child. I devoured books by the Brontë sisters — Jane Eyre and Emma by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily and Agnes Grey by Anne — by the time I was ten. I tried my hand at War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy when I was eleven (it would take me another five years to finish, re-read another time and then finally understand it all). I became fascinated with Russian history from reading Tolstoy that lingers with me to this day. I read his Anna Karenina when I was around the age of twelve. And then I discovered Fyodor Dostoevsky!
My small local library only held three of Dostoevsky’s books — Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. I’d read all three by the time I began high school at the age of thirteen. Later on, in college, I would go on to read The House of the Dead, Demons and Notes From the Underground. My Russian literature professor in college gifted me a book that held all of Dostoevsky’s short stories. It has a special place on my bookshelf even to this day.
In high school, I was introduced to Edgar Allan Poe and my heart has never been the same since. His work has influenced my own more so than any other writer out there. When I was fifteen, I purchased a collection of his work with my lawn mowing money (I’d mow the lawns for five neighbors in the summers to have spending money). With my Raven totem, is it any wonder that The Raven is my favorite of his tales? Annabel Lee is another, but in all seriousness, there isn’t a story or poem of his that I am not passionately in love with.
Through Poe, I would go on to discover Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Ann Radcliffe, William Blake, Victor Hugo, Bram Stoker and so many more. I became ingulfed in the classics with a heavy influence of Gothic Romanticism. This overwhelming desire for gothic literature lead me to modern gothic literature. These were mostly thin novels from the 60s and 70s written by the likes of Dan Ross (under his many female pennames) whose Dark Shadows books I devoured with relish (these were based on the daytime soup Dark Shadows — Ross wrote these under his penname Marilyn Ross), Daphne du Maurier, and Wilkie Collins (I have a collection of around 300 or so of these books). It would become a natural transition for me to leap over to the Romantic Suspense genre of writers like Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney.
Somewhere in my transition from the classics to more modern work, I discovered Stephen King. His horror reminded me a lot of Poe and Bram Stoker’s work. I became an avid fan and collect all of his books. I’ve read a lot of horror since discovering King. It has become one of my favorite genres, not only to read, but also to write. Around 2005, I discovered another horror writer whose work I now collect — Blake Crouch of the Wayward Pines fame.
From the classics, to the romantics and on to horror, somewhere along the way, I also discovered another genre of literature that fascinated me — Science Fiction. I’ve always been fascinated with Mars (don’t ask me why, I just am) and during my long browsings at my local library as a teenager, I came across Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I was spell-bound by the beauty of his writing and his imagination. I began collecting and reading his work too. From Bradbury, I would go on to read Isaac Asimov, H.G. Wells, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Jules Verne, George Orwell, Margret Atwood and so many more. By chance, I discovered Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game series — I now collect all of his work. And then, with my continued love of Mars, I discovered Kim Stanley Robinson and his Mars series — and yes, I collect his work now too. In the past few years, I have discovered a writer who mixes Science Fiction and Horror — Luke Smitherd. His book The Stone Man was my first introduction to his work. I have not be disappointed since and I collect his work on my Kindle.
In college, I was introduced to Virginia Woolf and the Confessional poets — Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and W. D. Snodgrass. I’d just begun experiencing mental health issues at this time in my life and I become obsessed with Woolf, Lowell, Plath, and Sexton for their often mournful writing. Interestingly enough, all four of them would commit suicide, a path I was quickly falling into.
If I were asked what book is my all time favorite, it would be The House of Breath by William Goyen. Much like the writers Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust, Goyen wrote The House of Breath in a stream of consciousness style. It is a story of memory and childhood trauma told in mournful prose. I carry a copy of it (my third over the years) with me everywhere I go.
I have always been an avid reader and I am never without a book stuck under my nose. Although my readership has evolved over the years, from time to time, I go back and re-read some of my earlier favorites. I can no longer collect books as I once did. I no longer have the space in my home to contain them all, so I only collect certain writers these days (as I’ve noted above) and books of poetry. Instead, I purchase Kindle books and have managed to fill two of the earlier versions of Kindle White. Some people have asked me, “Have you read all the books you own?” and I can honestly say that I’ve read every hardback and paperback book in my collection and I am weeding my way through my Kindle collection now.
The writers and books I have mentioned here are by no means an exhaustive list. I would have to write my own book if I were to list all the amazing writers and their work from centuries and decades ago that I have enjoyed over my half a century of active reading. I still seek out work from the classics that I’ve yet to read and enjoy discovery new and upcoming writers. I’ve often said that if I could only take three things with me on a desert island, they would be 1) an endless supply of fresh drinking water, 2) an enduring source of lighting, and 3) an inexhaustible supply of literature. I’d be quite content.
Some days I am sad that I have no children to pass my love of reading onto — even my nieces and nephews aren’t avid readers. If it doesn’t show up on their smart phones, can be read in a minute, then they aren’t interested. However, I recently discovered that my grandniece, who is four, is interested in books. She received a nice package in the mail on the 7th of this month. I showered her with six children’s books for her mother to read to her at night. I told my niece to let me know when her daughter is bored with the ones I bought and I will send more. Maybe, just maybe, I found the one person in my extended family to cultivate with a love of literature.
©2021 Lori Carlson. All Rights Reserved.
This long-winded, rambling mess is in response to Diana C.’s question — what genre do you like reading? (you may be sorry you asked! *laughs*)
Lori Carlson writes Poetry, Fiction, Articles, Creative Non-Fiction and Personal Essays. Most of her topics are centered around Relationships, Spirituality, Life Lessons, Mental Health, Nature, Loss, Death, and the LGBTQ+ community. Check out her personal Medium blog here.