Every writer is first a reader. We have shelves of books we really liked. And then we have our talisman books, that ‘special’ shelf that houses the books that made us feel differently than all the others; the books that made us want to be writers. These we may read, and reread time and again.
It’s with great pleasure that I welcome the lovely and talented Kathyrn Craft here today, author of The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, to tell us, not only which books these are for her, but what it is about her favorites that has caused her to read them each more than once.
My Three Most Re-Read Books
by Kathryn Craft
Unlike many writers, I am not a re-reader of books. There are too many to get through in my lifetime! On my shelves, however, among hundreds of others I can’t part with, sit three well-thumbed and Post-It ridden novels:
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
- The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A gothic story-within-a-story, a coming-of-middle-age tale, and a domestic drama narrated by a dog. With covers in completely different styles. There is no reason at all to compare these titles, besides the fact that I have re-read each of them three times. What compelled me to lavish so much time and attention on them?
Turns out they do have some important things in common.
A strong perspective. Watching a biographer write is not riveting story material. Unless her subject is an eccentric bestselling novelist who has reinvented her personal story time and again, and the biographer writing The Thirteenth Tale is a woman so quiet she considers receiving a letter “somewhat of an event.” Added to the 43-year-old drunk who needs redemption in The Memory of Running and the aged dog lying in a puddle of his own urine in The Art of Racing in the Rain, all three promise an interesting lens through which to view story events—and the voice to deliver it.
A clear yet deeply conflicted goal. Stein’s dog believes he will reincarnate as a human and is ready to sacrifice his earthly life to do so—but he can’t leave just yet because his human, Denny, needs him more than ever. In hopping on his childhood bike to ride from Boston to California to identify his beloved sister’s body, Smithy of The Memory of Running must butt up against all the ways he’s let his life slide, even while navigating uphill; he’s “a porker pushing a bike.” Margaret’s biography will unlock emotional territory that her stack of perfectly sharpened pencils suggests she might not be eager to handle. I love a disadvantaged protagonist who will grow into him/herself.
Concise language. I am a fan of understatement. The spaces hiding within spare prose invite the reader to co-create story. When Smithy stands beside his dying mother and rearranges her thin hair on the pillow, he says, “There.” That’s it. McLarty doesn’t make the mistake of telling the reader his character feels helpless. He doesn’t have to—that one generic word oozes with helplessness that the reader can’t help but feel. After Margaret and friends suffer a deeply felt loss they speak briefly about the weather and then start peeling potatoes for dinner. We get it: life goes on. The dog can’t help but embrace understatement: the design of his tongue does not make it an effective tool “for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.”
Meaningful metaphor. Stein sets up his book-length metaphor from the start—the best racecar driver is the one who can handle his car in the rain—and my mind flew on creative overdrive for the rest of the book. In her diary, Margaret Lea speaks of a “ghost reader who leans over my shoulder watching my pen, who twists my words and perverts my meaning, and makes me uncomfortable in the privacy of my own thoughts.” And the turning points in Smithy’s understated emotional journey mimic the literal as he confronts both hardship and generosity on his cross-country ride. Such layers make reading a delight.
An ending that begs continued engagement. I am not one who likes her songs to end. The questions that hover around a story’s conclusion keep it reverberating in my soul like an unresolved chord. All three of these protagonists stuck with me long beyond the end of their stories. So much so that, in time, I took the record of their adventures back off my shelf for the pleasure and honor of spending time with them all over again.
Kathryn Craft is the author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves any event that brings together readers, books, food and drink, and mentors other writers through workshops and writing retreats. A former dance critic, she has a bachelor’s in biology education and a master’s in health and physical education from Miami University in Ohio. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and spends her summers lakeside in northern New York State.
The Far End of Happy
Ronnie’s husband, Jeff, is supposed to move out today. But when he pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned. The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family’s lives depend on the choices she will make—but is what’s best for her best for everyone?
Based on a real event from the author’s life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.
Check out these other stops on the tour for reviews of The Far End of Happy, and a chance to win a copy: