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Write on! (03/02/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns
Impatient young writers, keep the faith! It took four-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, American poet Robert Frost, more than 20 years from the time his first poem was printed in a high school magazine to the time of his first book, at 38 years of age.

Talent is never a waste! Though sometimes disrespected or misunderstood, talent is never worthless! It can be a matter of personal opinion, in the eyes, ears, heart, or touch of the beholder. It's sad to know that many efforts by dedicated writers are treated like so much scrap paper, discarded to bargain shelves and SALE tables.

What's this leading up to? On a visit to a discount store in Winona last month, I encountered a table laid out with impressive, hardcover novels by successful authors, all for a paltry one dollar bill apiece! What I first thought was a fantastic "find" for someone ravenous for reading material, like myself, began to feel like a rude insult on behalf of these authors.

I thought, is this what writers come to, judged and disgraced by reducing their masterpieces to pennies, to abuse by unruly children with sticky fingers and absently dismissed by office workers running errands on their lunch breaks? What do they know of the toil of thought and the agony of literary rejection? (I'm experiencing a melodramatic meltdown!)

What factor has diminished the reading of novels? This old Groucho Marx quote might give us a clue: "I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go into another room and read a good book." Aha!

Having recently ventured beyond my steady diet of non-fiction, poetry, spiritual books, and chronicles highlighting nature and the environment, I have been discovering a broader reading world of poignant, clever, and sensuous writers out there. It began as I devoured three bestsellers last year and found them intriguing.

Erik Larson's "The Devil In the White City" includes a tale of perverted murder and details of the construction and catastrophes of the first World's Fair in 1893 in old Chicago. Following that genius of a book, I discovered "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Wells, disturbing in content but brilliantly written. "Water For Elephants" by Sara Gruen was one that I couldn't put down, far more exciting than my customary reading choices. Though fiction, the drama and enchantment of circus life was meticulously researched.

We draw from our own wells through our penchant to create a story of our own design or to stick to factual renditions. Great and small lessons of life, mutual experiences, and a keener understanding of the complexity of all living things and their interactions can be realized through poetry, novels, and song lyrics. Reading broadens our horizons and brings diversity into focus. It leads to a better understanding of self when the reader is open to that.

I soon realized that the "bargain" books I had just bought for a dollar aren't works to be written off as cheap, trashy, and mundane. First I read "In the Province of Saints," by award winning writer Thomas O'Malley, based on rural hardships and family discord, with a deep insight of life in Ireland, painfully candid.

"The Circus In Winter" by Cathy Day follows the twisted path of a circus and the bizarre lives of its performers, complicated, colorful, and tragic accounts of the folks of the big top through the years. Spellbinding!

I'm reading the third book now, compiled by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Anna Quindlen from the New York Times. Entitled "Loud and Clear," her wise and charming stories and insight about parenting, everyday people and our struggles in this fast-paced world is one to return to again and again.

My final word: "I'm going back to the discount store to pick up more treasures!" Maybe there's a positive postscript to this article. If I hadn't discovered these wonderful books on that dollar table I may never have had the opportunity to read them.

Write on!

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Winona County. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com 


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