A pathological nostalgia

Eric and me at Castillo de San Marcos, Florida, sometime in the 1960's

Eric and me at Castillo de San Marcos, Florida, sometime in the 1960’s

“I had a pathological nostalgia.  I grieved not only for my own rapidly receding childhood but also for the years, ‘the pasts,’ that I would never experience.  The past seemed as real to me as the present, as real as another country.  But unlike another country, its borders were closed…pictures felt like the next best thing to time travel.”Chris Wild

Illustrations, particularly photographs, are a natural complement to reading, or perhaps just another version of the same activity in a different dimension.  When I read this quote, I understood my own “pathological nostalgia” as one reason for my enduring compulsion to take pictures.  I’ve been creating conduits for time travel into my own personal past, having taken many such journeys into our collective past through the work of camera enthusiasts from Matthew Brady to Dorthea Lange to my own father.

One of my first and most compelling experiences on WordPress was reading about the history of a Canadian family at an interesting blog post which really tapped into my nostalgia for anyone and everyone’s past.  Something about the photos and writing connected me to the writer, who (as anyone following this blog for awhile will know) became a dear friend.  The title of her post says it all for me: “We would have a lot in common.” I suppose that conviction is what draws me to the history of all sorts of people.

In childhood, biographies written for and about children were among my favorite books.  Even in my early travels, I quickly sensed (or perhaps imagined) that historic sites retain some intangible remnant of what has passed there; traces of atmosphere redolent of previous decades, or sometimes even centuries.

I used to dream of time travel with three parts longing tempered by one part spellbound terror. On some level I knew that it would be frightening and dangerous to find myself in another era, but that didn’t stop me from wishing I could visit history in person.

My first vivid memory of wanting to transport myself back in time was on our family trip to Castillo de San Marcos in Florida.  Something about that well-preserved fortress captured my imagination and made me feel as if I could almost hear the sounds of canon fire and soldiers speaking in rapid, urgent Spanish.  But when I turned from gazing dreamily over the ramparts, there were my parents and siblings looking blandly contemporary, and the exotic sounds and images vanished.

Wild is correct: no matter how real the past might seem or really be, its borders remain closed to us in a physical sense.  Yet thanks to digital images, we are able to get closer than ever before, as obscure photographs, drawings, journals and other ephemera from bygone days are scanned and made available in numbers that stagger the imagination.  I smile to think that having such easy access to these abundant collections might seem as exotic and impossible to my great-grandparents as time travel is to us, and wonder whether those now-closed physical borders will ever be crossed by generations that come after us.

Until then, though, we travel on the wings of imagination, navigating with photographs, stories, historic preservation and that mysterious sixth sense that springs to life occasionally, when we stand in a place where others stood long before we were alive.  Do you like to visit the past?  If so, send postcards from your next imaginary journey — and maybe I’ll see you there sometime!




  1. Nancy S.

    This post was very encouraging to me because it gave a name to what I often feel: not only an extreme longing to go back into the past to get to know my ancestors and other people but a longing to re-experience times when loved ones were alive and I had not made so many of the mistakes or wrong decisions I have since made. I grieve for what was and for what might have been instead of fully experiencing the joy of the present. Sometimes the grief is so profound that I do not even want to look at pictures from my past. This keeps me from fully enjoying the present and the people with whom I am blessed to share life with now. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions about this subject. It gives me the courage to enjoy remembering the good things about the past without fearing thinking about what was lost. It also makes me realize that the desire to time travel to experience life in past times and places is not so unusual. Thank you!

    • Hi Nancy, thanks so much for joining us here in the comments section! I too find that looking at photos — especially of less-than-happy memories such as high school yearbooks — often makes me feel sad. I have learned to cope with it by doing a couple of things that were initially very hard for me. One: if a photo makes me sad every time I see it, I spend a few minutes connecting with that sorrow, acknowledging and honoring it, and then tear the photo up. I’m an archivist at heart so this is something that really goes against the grain for me, but why keep something that adds to my sorrow? Two: I keep reminding myself that it’s the entire package of life that is beautiful, and the variety of experiences gives it a rich texture that would be lacking if all was rosy — to say nothing of the wisdom and strength that can only come from going through sad and scary times.

      I think many of us are fascinated with time travel. It’s why historical novels and costume dramas are so popular. The one novel I have ever written is set in ancient times. It sounds funny, but I “lived” there so many hours when I was writing it, that it has become very real to me, almost as if I had actually been there. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us!

      • Nancy S.

        Thank you, Julia, for sharing how you cope with sadness and also for the reminder that it is the entire package of life that is beautiful. God bless you.

        • Thank you Nancy. 🙂 ❤

      • Julia, what a beautiful post. I too feel that you’ve put words to something I often feel. I love documenting my family history with photos and words, and I love the bits of history gleaned from my parents photos and scrapbooks. I’m intrigued the the ancient contents in historical museums and love to imagine what it is like.

        Like you, I’ve learned to destroy photos or mementos that illicit sadness. Life is too short for that. We don’t need reminders of sadness and hurt. Better to build memories that nurture and uplift us. We remember the difficulties anyway. No need to have that amplified, in my opinion. I destroyed several year books from my younger days and just kept the one from my senior year.

        I love your photo and quote. You are a beautiful writer, and now you’ve just lightly mentioned a novel I didn’t know about. Julia!!!

        • Thanks for your kind words about the post, and your encouragement for me to keep weeding out the weeds! One of the things in Kondo’s book that I found most helpful was her suggestion to ask one question when cleaning out: “Does this spark joy?” That really helps separate the memorabilia worth hanging onto (or for that matter, the costume jewelry, clothing, books, whatever) from things that might be useful or nice, but not needed.

          I wrote my novel in 2005 and early 2006, but have never published it. I have had some encouraging, almost flattering feedback from literary agents, but no representation or anything other than my own sporadic attempts to have editors take a look at it. I’m sure if it’s ever published, it will probably be via e-publishing or self publishing, since it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, and indy publishing has become so much easier and more respectable. But it’s a highly personal story, and I have conflicting emotions about what to do with it. Just writing it was a wonderful experience, though.

          • Does this spark joy resonates with so many, Julia. I’m hearing that over and over again. Hundreds of books are published on this subject, but she seems to really resonate with people.

            I think most first novels are incredibly personal. I can appreciate why you would be a bit ambivalent. I’m delighted to hear you’ve received positive feedback from literary agents, and not the least bit surprised. Your blog is always thoughtfully written and food for thought, and the poetry I read in your home moved me to quiet tears. You have the gift.

            • Oh, thank you Alys! Your saying that means more than you know! ❤

  2. Ann

    I think my fascination with the past has spurred on my interest in genealogy. Why did my ancestors leave their homes in the 1600s and 1700s for the New World? How did they survive here? Once, we visited a battle site from the American Revolution and I saw an ancestor’s name engraved on the monument- looking around I could almost hear the battle and wondered how any of them survived. So glad I live now not then.

    • Wow, how fascinating that your ancestry here goes so far back! I have been told that some of our family ancestors were here during revolutionary times, but I don’t know if I could prove it — maybe if I could, I’d join the DAR! That must have been quite an experience to see the old grave of a family member. Graveyards are so interesting to me, even when I have no connection to anyone whose names I see there. I agree with you — I’m VERY glad I live now! But I’d still like to sneak a firsthand peek at “then” if I knew I could come back to “now” safely.

  3. Carolyn

    Good morning Julia, so far we are having a nice day, but to warm to be out side. Up date, I am still in sling with some arm exercise for three weeks. Then another x-ray, then if it has healed I will start therapy. He did a lot of moving my arm Friday and seems happy with the way things are going. Hope you all are okay, how is Jeff? Our Nicole left for college yesterday, Lipscomb, not sure of the spelling, and our little Josh turned nine. Time sure is speeding by. Better close, hope your week is great. Hugs and love to all. Carolyn

    • Carolyn, I hope the exercises are not painful for your arm. When Matt broke his arm in 2013 we had to help him with range of motion exercises and I think it was a bit difficult for him. Initially we had to be very easy with it but then the doctor told us to get more intense with it. We are all doing OK. Jeff just continues to amaze me. His CEA is creeping up, despite the chemotherapy (which has had to be lowered to a 50% dose due to his blood counts being so bad, and even then they can’t always do it). I’m living in blissful ignorance until his upcoming scans, praying for a good result but trying to brace myself for hearing bad news. Jeff and Matt both are so remarkable about acting and seeming normal even when the oncologist or cardiologist say that they are not doing well. It certainly makes my life more bearable but sometimes I wonder how much of it is just bravery on their part. WOW, Nicole in college already? I’m happy to hear she is going to Lipscomb! Love to you and Terry — I am keeping you close in thoughts and prayers.

  4. Beautifully written. I almost got lost along the path with you. How grand that you had such a wonderful imagination as a child. I love taking photos now and the few I have of times gone by are always triggering a memory. Thought about writing about them. Just can’t seem to sit quietly long enough. Busy reading when I do.:)) I’m afraid there is no era I would rather be in than this one. It’s been a hard one but very, very interesting. Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane.

    • Marlene, I agree with you that right now is my top pick for when to be alive. We have so much abundance in so many areas — and yes, that can make life difficult, but very very interesting too! If you’re like me, the writing will formulate in your head even when you are not sitting down with pen in hand. When you finally get the chance to sit down and write, it might just flow out with very little effort. Someone — I think it was Anne Lamott — said that a writer’s brain is like a giant compost heap and everything that goes into it enriches the soil from which the writing grows. I thought it was a good analogy. Thanks for your company in my time travel!

      • I love travel in any form. :)) And yes, it’s a giant compost heap up there. Anne Lamott is a wonderful writer. I have several of her books with one waiting for me. Hugs.

        • I just finished reading Small Victories and really enjoyed it. A lot of the essays were previously published, but it was fun to hear them again, and there were some good new ones too.

  5. raynard

    Julia, I can still remember working in a supermarket in the 1970’s. When the first man landed on the moon, before ATM machines, when everyone didnt have credit. A better one, when the trash man came 6 days a week and stores were closed on Sundays… Thank God for Youtube.. So the trips in my mind with no luggage is normal? lol be blessed

    • Raynard, I was working at Rich’s department store in Atlanta when they first started staying open on Sundays. They were open from 1-5 so I could go to church in the morning, go directly to work and get paid time and a half, and still be able to get to the evening service at church that night. I loved it. Even at work, Sundays were quiet times in those days. A lot of people thought it was a waste to stay open on Sundays since most people didn’t shop then. The first Chick-Fil-A ever (not counting the original Dwarf House) was in the Greenbriar Mall where I worked, and it was never open on Sunday. Still isn’t, and I admire them for that. YES the trips in your mind without luggage are not only normal, but they are some of the best trips you will ever make, and the price is certainly right too! BTW I had forgotten that the trash used to come more frequently. I do remember those metal trash cans, and also the milkman delivering the milk in glass bottles. Everyone had an insulated milk box sitting in their driveway. Did the grocery you worked at give trading stamps? Those were the days!!

  6. As always, insightful and delightful Julia. Thank you for your generous words about my post and linking to it. I also went back to it and found it quite enjoyable, LOL. I guess I’m creating a link to the past right here at WordPress. Future generations will have so much to draw from. Assuming the internet doesn’t melt, become obsolete in some fashion or be targeted for some kind of massive, invasive, unstopable bug. Who knows what the future looks like, sounds like, feels like? Maybe ‘Beam Me Up’ will become a reality ! Many items from that show have, so it might not be as crazy as we think.

    They talked to each other on TV screens that look exactly like us Skyping today. They talked into small, hand held, cordless phones exactly like we do today. Doors opened and closed just like they do today. Maybe Gene Roddenberry had a portal to the future himself? He did seem to have a lot of insight 😉 It all sounds fantastical until it actually becomes true. Forward thinkers are a rarity. We are all much more nostalgic and I for one can take ownership of that. Everything looks rosier in hindsight. Looking into an uncertain future can be scary for someone like me. I like to *know* everything will be alright. Of course that’s not possible. We’ll see, I will take a giant cup of optimism and be on my way. See you there dearest xo K

    • K, it is really interesting how close some of our storytellers came to predicting the future. I have been told (though I don’t know it firsthand) that Jules Verne was absolutely amazing in that regard. On a darker note, Aldous Huxley came pretty close too. I agree with someone who wrote recently that we are closer to his Brave New World than we are to Orwell’s 1984 — in Huxley’s work, dystopic people are controlled more by distraction and “entertainment” than by intimidation and fear.

      I do hope all our online ramblings survive. What terrifies me most about having all our history (even the broadcast news and encyclopedias and so forth) online instead of on paper, is that electronic records are so much easier to obliterate or tamper with; history can be and already is being re-written on an ongoing basis. I had my first real taste of this when I was interviewed about the health care reform one year after the summit, and said some very critical things. It didn’t take 24 hours after online publication for that newspaper story to be completely re-written with my quotes strategically censored and the headline totally reversed from negative to positive. Kind of terrifying, really. I wish so much I had saved the original piece. It’s a sobering comparison to make. People have been burning books and libraries for as long as they have existed, but some books (such as the Bible) have survived all attempts to get rid of them. But extensive online histories can be erased or changed with the click of a key. It’s something future generations would do well to bear in mind. I hope somebody somewhere is keeping good backup copies!

      Meanwhile we can hope for the best and maybe someday you and I will be taking trips forward and backward in time. Here’s to optimism! See you there. 😀 ❤

  7. Julia, Great post on the importance of pictures.
    It reminds me of two things. The TV program: “You Are There.” and the Simon and Garfunkel song: “Time it was and what a time it was, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

    • Thanks, Alan. I’m too young to remember the TV broadcasts of “You Are There” but we did watch them a few years later as films in elementary school. We used to love to see those old black and white reels, which were so interesting to us. Even watching the teacher thread the machine and seeing the numbers count down at the beginning was fun. I’m glad I can remember those days.

      Simon and Garfunkel are a huge part of my childhood memories. They were perhaps the first popular musicians I liked as a kid. We had a next door neighbor who could play some of their songs on his guitar. I think “Sounds of Silence” is THE song of the century! So prophetic. To this day I love and listen to their music, and I think Paul Simon is, hands down, the most talented musician of his generation, both a poet and a musical genius. And Art Garfunkel’s voice is angelic and perfect for the songs. I love a lot of their later stuff too, that they did separately. Simon’s album “Surprise” is full of wonderful music. I get a big kick out of the song “Outrageous” and also “Wartime Prayers” and many others on that album. Wow, I guess everybody will now know better than to get me started on Simon and Garfunkel… 😀

  8. Michael

    A couple of years ago I received a box set of Simon and Garfunkel for xmas. Listening to their song- Album? Parsley Sage, Rosemary and thyme is taking a trip down memory lane. The song “Silent Night” with news cast in the back ground is absolutely chilling.” President Nixon says the greatest threat to the war effort is a growing protest movement at home.” The entire album is 28 minutes and each song a masterpiece including my favorite – Homeward Bound- ” Sitting in a railway station got a ticket to my destination.” Cloudy is also a good one. Not a bad egg in the package.

    • That was the third album they released. We owned it plus the first two (Wednesday Morning 3 a.m. and Sounds of Silence) and I honestly think I still could sing all the verses of most every song on all three albums, I have sung them to myself so many times over the years. I learned a lot of vocabulary from those songs, words like “litany” and “sacrament” and “desultory phillipic.” To this day when I’m waiting on a subway train I can hear the words of “A Poem on the Underground Wall” running through my head. “Cloudy” was one of my all-time favorites, and still is. In 9th grade we had to do a class presentation featuring a song and that was the one I chose. I identify with it on a personal level; it seems so doggedly determined to be positive.

  9. Michael

    I think I have those in the boxed set. The song I was trying to remember was “Desultory phillip” which was described as a news flash from the 60’s. McNamara, john O hara, and Phil Spectored to mention a couple. 14 songs in 28 minutes!
    Also like “Flowers never bend in the rainfall,” with the line – the line is thinly drawn between sorrow and joy- so I will continue to pretend- my life will never end. And flowers never bend in the rainfall.” Genius.
    My wife also likes Laura Nyro- another great songwriter from the 60″s.

    • “A Simple Desultory Philippic” may have been part of the inspiration behind later songs such as Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Sort of like the way Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” seems to me to be a forerunner of rap/hip-hop style music, but maybe that’s just my imagination. Speaking of which, I listened to S&G’s cover of “The Times, They are a-Changing” for years before I ever listened to the original of Dylan singing it. I don’t remember ever hearing of Laura Nyro, but after getting your comment I looked her up and found out she wrote a lot of songs made famous by other groups, including one of my great favorites, “Save the Country” by the 5th Dimension. To this day I listen to that song often, especially when I need some energy and optimism. I’ll always feel lucky to have grown up in the 60’s and 70’s.

  10. Michael

    Please remember Wa. State firefighters. Last week three died and one is at Harborview Hospital in Seattle- in critical condition. We have friends in Eastern Washington who are evacuating at this very moment. 24 rires burning now- most out of control.

    • Thanks for letting us know, Michael — I’m sure many who read this will remember and pray for them. Fires are so devastating and I imagine evacuation would be traumatic. I never think of Washington as having wildfires, but as with Oregon, I tend to think mostly of the coastal cities and forget the state is much larger than that. Similar to CA, where most of the state is quite different from the coast.

  11. Michael

    Yea Eastern Wash. is like another country. Little rain, flat, dry- farming communities wheat and in some cases- apples and cherries. Tough winters and dry hot summers. One winter there the temp hovered around 10 degrees for two months.
    One of my favorite’s from Laura was “And when I die,” made famous by another super group of the 70’s -“Blood, sweat and Tears.”
    “I’m not afraid of dyin and I don’t really care -if its peace you find in dyin-then let the time be near.”
    With older son an Atlanta firefighter the lives of those on the fire line are near to my heart.

    • I remember that song too. She really wrote a lot of hits, didn’t she? I can see where your son’s occupation would make you especially mindful of others facing the same danger. I’m sure you have heard about his work from him, and know some of the details that most of us never hear. Firefighters and other first responders were very much on people’s minds after 9/11, but until things reach a crisis point, we sometimes forget that they face these situations on a smaller scale most every day. Years ago someone told me that, statistically speaking, firefighters have a much riskier job than police officers. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes sense to me.

  12. Michael

    Actually our son tells us very little of the day to day operation of things, which may be best. One of his co-firefighters lives in Chattanooga. His daughter was in school during the recent shooting incident. All the schools were on lockdown. The coworker rushed back to Chattanooga in a panic. As the song says, ” What’s goin on?” All the shootings.- in every locality.Now Virginia? Again.
    By the way my son went to, ” active shooter training,” last year. I actually went to part of it with him.
    I am not sure about the firefighter/ police distinction. Firefighters usually don’t get shot, but can get caught in the crossfire. Lots of them end up with severe debilitating lung issues.
    Here is the good news: Chattanooga was voted best city for outdoor types and had a nice write up in Outdoor magazine. Looking forward to going again. And by the way where does that name come from? Must be indian.
    We are watching- or rewatching I think the miniseries-“North and South” by John Jakes. I had forgotten how good it is. And I am reading E.L.Doctorow’s, ” The March”- about Atlanta. So I am back on my civil war kick.
    I also recently read Anthonly Doerr’s ” All the Light we cannot see.” Wonderful book. Truly amazing.

    • Michael, I believe the risk referred to in the comment about fireman was of all the hazards such as you mention, smoke inhalation and getting trapped in a burning building and so on, not from getting shot.

      I believe Chattanooga is an Indian word, though I don’t know for sure and don’t have time right now to look it up. I used to really enjoy John Jakes’ books and want to read more of them someday.

      I did read The March and it helped me deal with my lifelong grudge against General Sherman. I think it’s natural for anyone who grew up in Atlanta to have hard feelings about him. I guess I feel about Sherman the way residents of Hiroshima must feel about nuclear weapons, even if they are too young to have been there. But I thought Doctorow did a good job of making him real, believable, and even a bit sympathetic. As General Sherman is quoted in a display of city history at Atlanta’s airport, which I saw again this week, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” He certainly proved that, not as if anyone had any doubt.

      I checked out and downloaded the audiobook of “All the Light We Cannot See,” so I’m glad to hear it’s good. I’m not sure when I will get to it, but I’ll look forward to it.

  13. Michael

    Yes a whole different perspective if you are living in the Southern parts. I think I mentioned to you before the time I met my sons’s friend Alicia on a visit to Atlanta for the first time. Her family is from Atlanta. She said- about the battle of Kennesaw mountain, “Yes that was one of the few battles we won down here.” That opened my eyes to a new world. My grandfather Carter was from West Virginia and moved west after the Civil war- so I assume he was of the Confederate state of mind. Did not Sherman originally come from that area- Georgia- or lived around there at some point?
    I hope you like that e-book.

    • Yes, there’s a deep and lingering sorrow in the South, all the more so because virtually all of us nowadays agree that slavery was EVIL and HAD to end. To grow up in the south is to know and hear again and again that one’s home state was devastated by fighting the bloodiest war in our history, against our own nation, and losing– though in a very real sense, there are no winners in any war, and the horrors and consequences of slavery were not limited to the south, and were far from over with Lee’s surrender. One doesn’t have to be pro-Confederate to feel deeply the sense of tragedy that permeates our relatively recent history. I imagine that lifelong residents of Gettysburg and Antietam, as well as first-generation immigrants who can remember seeing their home countries torn apart by war, can understand the legacy of the south. It doesn’t help matters that we sometimes are ridiculed and insulted as being ignorant hicks, or stereotyped as vicious racists and extremists. Not that you won’t find any of those types here, but you will find them EVERYWHERE. Unfortunately, as with violent and hateful people throughout history and across all cultures, they tend to make the most noise and get the most notice. But not all in the south were sympathetic to the Confederacy or slavery, just as not all in the north were abolitionists.

  14. Michael

    Chattanooga is a Cherokee word meaning crow’s nest. Who knew?

    • Given the mountains in that area, I guess it makes sense. Thanks for looking that up for me!

  15. A post close to my heart. I too longed for travel. As a child my mother used to tell me I have Gypsy blood in me. Just those few words conjured up thoughts of a wagon with carvings, dancers, music and horses. This post has pushed the flow of the Gypsy blood once more. :o)

    • Patricia, the word “gypsy” reminds me of the chorus of one of my favorite Monkee songs, “The Door into Summer” — all those penny whistles and brightly painted wagons. Maybe you liked it as much as I did. Perhaps we both have a bit of Gypsy in us! 😀

  16. Perhaps you should try writing an historical novel o short story–then the borders will not be closed to you, but expanded. 🙂

    • Cynthia, that’s a great idea. Being an historical novelist is my idea of a dream job. When I was younger I wanted to be Phyllis Whitney or Victoria Holt. As I got older that morphed into wanting to be Amy Tan or Jane Smiley or Lisa See, but it’s basically the same dream. Even if I was never published, the experience of writing such works would be as close to time travel as I’m likely to come.

      • I so appreciate your dream; try living it! 🙂 I have been writing so much more since retiring at 62, publishing a bit more but can get really lazy regarding submissions–the business end of writing is not my favorite…My one finished novel needs more broad and serious cutting/ revising before i dare approach any agent with another pitch (did that a couple times at writer conferences–one agent was interested and it came to naught).
        In any case…I love Lisa See and the others, too. Finished another Isabelle Allende novel recently (her books are good for historical aspects) and always appreciate her prowess, as well as Louise Erdrich- and so many more!

        Oops, forgot this is not email, sorry. Give novel writing a try, Julia–it is so stimulating and enjoyable, even when hard.

        • Cynthia, no apology needed – I loved reading this comment. It’s about one of my all-time favorite topics. Ultimately the business aspects of publication are pretty depressing, though, or at least they can be. From what little experience I’ve had, you can have an agent or editor shower you with praise and then end up saying “but I don’t think we could get a publisher to take a chance on this.” 😦 Full disclosure: I have actually written ONE finished novel, and I totally loved the experience, even if the book never gets published. I do agree with you, it’s a wonderful thing to do. Now that I’m in this PhD program I’ll be writing mostly academic stuff, but I hope to go back to “normal” writing at some point. I miss it already. This blog is a good way to stay “in touch with the written word” as Michael Blake advised me to do so many years ago.

          I just read Ripper by Allende and really enjoyed it. It’s not historical, so that surprised me since I didn’t realize she wrote about contemporary topics too. I read Daughter of Fortune many years ago and really liked it too. I’ve also read some of Erdrich’s books. You have good taste in authors.

          • Well, that’s impressive, being in a PhD program (in what field?). Congratulations and best for your future in writing! Yes, let’s talk authors…a huge topic anyone who writes and loves to read enjoys! If oyu like mysteries, you might try one I just found–Francine Matthews’ series. Also Ivy Pachoda’s Vistitation Street. I never had read mysteries, only literary novels for years and finally started exploring other fascinating genres. (Better for writing instruction to read widely, of course.) It all depends on the author’s skills, of course. Another old favorites: Rumer Godden, little read these days, and Madeline L’Engle’s (adult) novels. Might take a look at them. I also appreciate Linda Hogan’s work–and so many more! Any suggestions for me? Best to you.

            • Cynthia, it’s a PhD in Communications. This semester I’m taking communication theory and historical/critical research methods, both of which will be fascinating to me, but also very intensive, in terms of work required. Theory will require me to write a short paper each week as well as a VERY long one near the end of the semester, plus an annotated bibliography and a medium-length essay on one of the three assigned texts. In addition to online discussions and weekly text and supplemental readings…and that’s just for ONE class! The other class will be similarly challenging. Good thing I love the topic.

              I had never heard of the mystery writers you mentioned, but I do like mysteries. I remember really enjoying both Rumer Godden and Madeline L’Engle when I was a young girl. They are good enough to re-read now that I’m an adult, as I recall, and I might do so sometime. I’m not familiar with Linda Hogan, but I will look her up. Suggestions, in terms of genre fiction, if you like espionage/thrillers, I really admire Graham Greene, John LeCarre, Frederick Forsythe and Ken Follett, though it’s been years since I read any spy novels. Follett’s historical novel Pillars of the Earth was quite good. If you read the classics, my favorites are Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Henry James. I like Joyce Carol Oates, too, though her novels are dark and sometimes to obviously political for my taste. Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Book Thief by Markcus Zusak were both great books that were made into movies that managed to do justice to the novels, but I’d still recommend reading the books first, if you haven’t already read/seen these works. Both quite unusual.

              • Just a reminder–Godden and L’Engle also have written for adults, so you might want to check those works out since you enjoyed their other writings. They are so unique in voice. I have read most of your suggestions. 🙂 But only Greene and LeCarre of the thriller genre–not my favorite, I admit, but maybe will try the other two. Yes, the classics are instructive and appreciated. I keep my eyes open for wonderful women authors, especially, as I love to support them with purchases and also find many of more obscure authors just wonderful, with less hype! Independent booksellers are great for suggesting those lesser known but very fine writers. We love Powell’s here in PDX.
                Best wishes on your PhD work!

                • I had forgotten they write for adults…definitely something to check out (literally!) 😀 Since you read the classics and like women authors, I assume you have read Middlemarch, which is another great. Good thing she had the savvy to call herself George so she could get into print. Powell’s is legendary! You are lucky to live near it.

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