(Previously posted on: nicolebaart.com)
I’m late to the Game of Thrones party. Honestly? I watched the first episode years ago and was rather traumatized. (I don’t do gore.) But I love fantasy and I knew that I would love the storyline… And in the end I just had to know what happened to Daenerys Targaryen. (I’m kind of obsessed with her.) Anyway, I’m a recent convert and totally hooked. I still “watch” with my eyes closed for a good portion of the show, but I deeply appreciate the story and the captivating way it’s told. I’d love to discuss George R. R. Martin’s exquisite character development or how he is a master of reversals–and I’ll go there eventually–but today I want to focus on a single line in the second or third episode (maybe fourth?) that was a turning point for me.
In this particular (rather insignificant) scene, Tyrion Lannister, a wry, brilliant character known for his one-liners, was defending the book in his hands. Truly stunned that his companion didn’t understand the importance of the written word, he said: “A mind needs a book like a sword needs a whetstone.”
Let me just tell you that I had previously hated Tyrion. Sarcastic, womanizing, lazy, and bitter, he embodied most of the characteristics I actively loathe. But these words made me sit up and take notice. In a matter of seconds his character changed for me–and it’s been an irreversible turnaround. He’s now one my favorite characters ever. And not just because he’s a book lover.
You don’t need me to unpack Tyrion’s statement. It’s obvious what he means. But though I’m an avid reader and have been my entire life, this one sentence has been a reminder for me. What we read matters. The whetstone on which we sharpen our minds is one we should give more than a passing consideration.
I’m writing an upmarket women’s fiction book right now with a distinct mystery/thriller edge. I’m hoping it hits the sweet spot between THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and BIG LITTLE LIES, and friends, these sorts of books have been my jam for the past year or so. As in, they’re all I’ve been reading. And though I do enjoy these sorts of books, they comprise a shallow little slice of the literary cannon–and it’s not nearly enough for me. In the past couple of months, I’ve very intentionally expanded my repertoire. Non-fiction, inspirational/motivational, historical, poetry, the classics… I’ve been feasting on a smorgasbord of literature–and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has enriched my writing. Who am I kidding? It’s enriched my life.
When I taught high school, my first goal was to get my students to read. It didn’t matter what they were reading as long as they were reading–comics, magazines, cookbooks, and pop favorites were all fair game. But as they grew and developed, I loved nothing more than encouraging them to expand their horizons and try new things. And, oh, the thrill when they latched on to a book they never expected to love, something rich and deep and beautiful. Something that changed them a little, spoke to their soul, helped them to see the world in a different light. It was like watching them open a gift.
I’m still reading upmarket women’s fiction–and loving it. But I’m also sharpening my mind on a variety of literature that is transforming me as a writer and a person. A few of my current faves:
- The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown) This book is carving furrows in the soil of my heart. Can’t begin to tell you how it is impacting me…
- The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry Rediscovered this gem at my sister-in-law’s house. Loving the simplicity and sweet rhythm of his perspective.
- Bread and Wine (Shauna Niequist) Each essay is a sip of fine wine, a taste of dark chocolate. I read one a day because I adore the way she uses language and the way she sees the world.
- A Long Way Gone (Ishmael Beah) The true story of a child soldier, this book is breaking my heart. But it is also expanding my capacity for understanding, my longing for grace. It’s haunting and necessary.
Your turn! I’d love to hear your recommendations–something (anything!) you love that has been shaping your heart and mind.