Suspend Your Disbelief

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Old Friends

Wilkie Collins, 1874 via Wikicommons

Wilkie Collins, 1874 via Wikicommons

Over on the Huffington Post, Cynthia Ellis has a lovely homage to The Woman in White, the 1859 classic of madness, mystery, romance and juicy hints at the supernatural by Wilkie Collins. The Woman in White was first published in serial form, and the reader feels it. The 600+ pages race by with a kind of terminal velocity from the first haunting scene. Ellis brought the book on her Hawaiian vacation, an experience she describes thus:

If you are in Kauai, trapped underwater in a small metal cage being dangled in front of sharks, trying not to stick out your fingers or toes lest your appendages be mistaken for the tempting snacks the boat captain has thrown overboard and you are still wondering what will happen to Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco instead of your life — then you realize you are reading a truly engrossing novel.

Many of the writers who have enchanted me over the years were themselves students – and disciples – of a carefully culled personal list of greats. It’s no secret that most writers are born from readers, but I’m always charmed by how differently and widely tastes range, full of quirks and loves stumbled upon by accident.

My friend Erin turned me on to The Woman in White (which I devoured on buses in San Francisco), my Grandfather gave me Zane Grey, and a college professor told me to go out and read everything Shirley Hazzard has written. So many of my favorite books were pressed into my hands by people who simply had never gotten over them. So what books remain fresh and living in your mind, no matter how many years its been since you lost a beach vacation to their seduction?

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