Last week I read a terrific essay in the New York Times by Edward Kelsey Moore entitled “At 52, Not Too Old for a Debut Novel.” He wrote it in response to the question he is constantly asked since the publication of his debut novel, The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat: “Aren’t you too old for this?”
He says that the skepticism he received when answering that he’s not too old for anything made him consider what he is too old for. He goes on to list some of the things he has decided he is too old for at 52 – too old to drink to excess in public, too old to dress anachronistically. Too old to believe time is on his side.
Just the fact that he is asked that question over and over again shows what an ageist society we live in. As someone who my first short story published when I was in my 40s, I’ve always believed we can do anything we set our minds to, no matter our age. His essay got me thinking, though, and I have to admit I’ve decided there are some things I may be past the age to do.
- Wear Daisy Dukes. In fact, if you are old enough to get the Daisy Duke reference, you are probably too old to wear them.
- Twerk. On second thought that might not be an age thing. Twerking is just not attractive. (I do think I should get extra youth points for knowing what it is, though.)
- Think I am the center of the universe. Hard to accept, but at some point most sane people do indeed accept this. Usually not until their 40s, however.
- Care what everyone else thinks. I’ve never been overly worried about this, but the older I get, the less I give a s*#t.
- Judge the value of my life by how much money I make. Good thing.
- And most importantly, I am too old to believe it when others say I am too old to do something. Whether it’s to write a novel, or to skydive, or to skinny dip.
There will always be people who say you can’t do something, because of your age, or your sex, or one of a million other reasons. Don’t believe them. You are never too old to follow your dreams.
Many writers write for the love of story. Many for the love of language. But the best writers are those who strive for beauty in both the story and the language. The story is not sacrificed for lyricism. It is told with language that serves the story, but that also often surprises us.
I’m currently reading Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, and as did his National Book Award- winning Let the Great World Spin, TransAtlantic reminds me over and over again of the power of the right word. His descriptions are so clearly drawn, his word choices so strong and inventive, that it takes my breath away.
A few of my favorite lines so far:
“Sometimes it withered him just to keep his mind steady.”
“…an incidental skim of words across the surface of the day…”
“The children appeared marooned by hunger.”
McCann uses such beautiful, creative language. It is the story that has drawn me in, that keeps me going on this journey with him. But it is the way he tells that story – the language – that makes me love the ride so much.
When I read writers like McCann, I want to be better. I want to challenge myself. I begin to rethink my verbs, searching for stronger and more evocative ways of saying things. I begin to play with my word choices. And I remember again what is so much fun about writing. I remember why I write in the first place.
A month ago I went on a carriage ride through Charleston with a friend, and this particular ride took us on a route I rarely travel in the city. It wasn’t my favorite route – that’s down by the Battery – but it was pretty, and I saw some things I’d never seen before.
The best find really had nothing to do with Charleston and the history here, and everything to do with books. Tucked down on Logan Street between Queen and Broad, mounted on a post in the front yard of one of the charming homes, was a box with a glass door. And through the glass you could see books. From the bottom of the house hung a sign: “Little Free Library. Take a book… Leave a book… Or both.”
I’d heard about Little Free Libraries, but didn’t know there was one in Charleston. I really had no idea what an amazing organization it is until I did a little research. Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that promotes these little “libraries” that house free books for members of local communities. The idea was conceived by a man as a tribute to his mother, a school teacher and book lover. He designed a library that looked like a schoolhouse, filled it with books, and mounted it in his front lawn. Little Free Library was born with that one schoolhouse box. Their website estimates there are now between 5000 and 6000 out there in 36 countries. They’ve also formed a partnership with Books for Africa to provide Little Free Libraries with containers of books.
You can build your own, or buy one from the organization (though those seem pretty expensive), or even have one custom designed. Then you register it, and the coordinates are put on a map on the website. It’s only $35 to register, and you get the sign, a bumper sticker, some bookplates, and occasionally free books from publishers. Best of all, though, you get to share books, and have others share books with you. Don’t all readers love that?
Check out their website, and see if there is a Little Free Library in your community. If there is, leave a note to the steward of that library thanking him or her for contributing to the promotion of literature. Leave some of your favorite books, or if you are a writer, share a few of your own. And if there’s not a Little Free Library in your community, consider being a steward yourself. I am.