Marlene Hauser

A street with street lights, where houses are books

Saluting Barbara Kingsolver

Hi Everyone,

Funny old day today in Oxford, with the temperature at 20C (68F) but with little sun, or maybe I should say a strobing one, clouds opening and closing like theatre curtains unsure if the show is meant to go on or not.  Saying that, this is the play today: cloudy, 47% humidity and 16mph wind. Altogether, rather comfy compared to friends and family who are combatting insufferable heat, and in some cases, very sticky humidity and a lot more wind.

Being Sunday, I have had a rather lazy start, and as I am reading Demon Copperhead, I Googled (random pick) any interview with its author Barbara Kingsolver. First out of the shoot was a YouTube video taken from an engagement at the Georgia Center for the Book seven months ago. Listening, I found Barbara charming and authentic. In other words, mesmerizing in her truthfulness. As I am not finished with the book, I am not capable of providing a review, but I can say that I am captivated.  Her words just march forward, taking the reader (me) with her. A bit like white water rafting, seems a bit dangerous to just step out of the boat—or to close her book.  Yes, I am driven to know: what happens in the end, what happens to Demon?

It was a real toss-up between writing this blog and carrying on with Demon Copperhead.  Years ago when I read The Poisonwood Bible, an early (1998) Kingsolver novel, I remember the same hypnotic prose. Totally drawn in, almost like a good movie, I had a hard time shaking her vision of the world (or perhaps I should say her character’s experience of their world) from my own. It was pleasant playing with empathy like that, and listening to her speak at the Georgia Center for the Book, I now understand that is her endgame: compassion and identification.  She seemed pretty clear also that she started with a theme, then plot and then cast (and cut) her characters, all with the intention of the reader stepping into those shoes to ultimately get her point across.

Different authors write for various reasons and all have distinct processes, but like any good reader-author, I was spellbound by Barbara’s ease in sharing her recipe for conjuring book success. I was reminded of a quote I once read on a bookstore wall. “Books may be the only true magic.”  This was attributed to author Alice Hoffman. I have always been intrigued by writing, the actual, literal act of one letter at a time (think toddler with primary colour, jumbo crayon painstakingly drafting that amazing alphabet, spelling her own name—or cuneiform characters pressed neatly into clay), one letter at a time, words, paragraphs, pages, chapters and books—word-processing magic in the highest sense.

Delighted also to hear Kingsolver unabashedly share her acquaintance with long-deceased, author Charles Dickens, the inspiration she found at his literal desk, amongst his things, at his seaside home Bleak House in Broadstairs, Kent, where she visited at the end of a long UK book tour, and very specifically borrowed the template of his classic work David Copperfield.  “It’s the boy’s story,” Charles said to her, or something to that effect, and so she did make the tale she wanted to tell (that of the opioid crisis in Appalachia) the boy’s (Demon’s) harrowing account.

A sprinkle of this and a dash of that, a magical visit with Charles Dickens, who may or may not have channelled William Shakespeare, who may or may have not have channelled Aristotle, his three-act dramatic structure template, Barbara Kingsolver both in her writing and her speaking left me with a real sense of a woman, an author, well in control of her craft, or perhaps better said in Old English, a woman well aware of her craeft,  her strength, her skill. Her magic!

Wishing you a July full of taking stock, your “before and aft,” with gratitude for the rock (or shoulders) upon which you now stand and the horizon you perceive; perhaps acceptance of your own craeft—your magic, your skill, your strength, your ability to believe.



Photo by urfinguss | iStock