Today, one of my new favorite books comes out, The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen. I call Rebecca my E-BFF. She has been uber supportive of GreatThoughts.com, always commenting on the blog and bantering with me on Twitter, Facebook via email and phone. She lives in St. Louis with her husband and daughter (she calls her the Bird Daughter) and loves to bake pies. Visit Rebecca at http://www.thebirdsisters.com. My review of The Bird Sisters can be found here. Loved, loved, loved it!
To brag about The Bird Sisters, it is a Fiction Pick for Barnes and Noble for April- that’s big folks!
Today, Rebecca posts here telling us about a book she loves by the author who inspired her. Here’s Rebecca:
The Stone Diaries, Butter & Banisters
It’s hard for me not to love a book that begins like this: “Birth, 1905. My mother’s name was Mercy Stone Goodwill. She was only thirty years old when she took sick, a boiling hot day, standing there in her back kitchen, making a Malvern pudding for her husband’s supper.” This is the kind of novel that grabs me time and again for two reasons: 1.) I am drawn to all things old (back kitchens, unusual names that at one time weren’t so unusual, and things like Malvern pudding, which I’ve never eaten but have romanticized plenty in my time here on earth. To tell the truth, I’m afraid to make it and ruin the opening image of one of my very favorite books, The Stone Diaries, by one of my very favorite authors, Carol Shields).
Shields writes with a certain plainsong grace and charm in all of her books, for which I have always adored and admired her. I’m glad she finally got the recognition she deserved near the end of her life (she won a Pulitzer for The Stone Diaries). Here is a woman who managed to raise several children, write handfuls of books and criticism, and remain happily married—attentive to her family as well as her home and her garden. She was traditional in many ways and untraditional in many others.
She is a person I would have liked to be friends with.
The Stone Diaries follows the life of Daisy Goodwill, whose mother Mercy dies giving birth to her. Daisy “bears witness” to her own life in the book. She becomes a mother, a wife, a widower, and by the end of the book an old woman.
It’s a stunning book. Truly.
This book is responsible for the existence of my novel The Bird Sisters. Carol Shields illuminated for me something essential: that the ordinary can be extraordinary, a credo that I fight for each time I sit down to write. A kitchen, for instance, can be a place of great joy, great sadness, and great tension in a story. I don’t happen to be a writer that looks for my plot in other worlds or with the help of murders or weapons or Hollywood, I look for them in things as seemingly benign as teacups and the women who drink from them each day. This is all thanks to Carol Shields, whose clean and subtle writing said to me, “Go ahead. Write about the slam of a screened door or honeysuckle twirling up a porch railing. Free yourself. Write about home.”
Carol Shields died of breast cancer on a warm day in July of 2003. I didn’t know her personally, but I feel like I did. I knew she’d been sick, but still I was devastated by the news of her passing. I miss her and the novels she didn’t get to write. I miss her ability to capture lightness and joy on the page. I miss her sense of humor, her always good-natured advice.
In her very last, very lovely novel Unless, Reta, the main character, a wife and mother, is doing her chores one morning and, among them, decides to follow her mother’s practice and polish her banister with butter. And here’s the thing: I trusted that character and Carol Shields so implicitly that I broke out a stick of butter, too. And you know what? My banister never shone as brightly as it did that day.
What are you reading and where are you going?