Join us all summer long for Last Read posts from a long list of talented writers, librarians and readers.
Guest Author Eliza Evans is a New Mexican ex-pat airlifted to the outskirts of Chicago a few years ago for love, sweet love. She likes green chile, genre fiction, calico cats and Milk Duds. The jury is still out on the Oxford comma and referring to herself in third person. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago. Sometimes she puts it down.
When I sat down to write about my Last Read, I thought about how I’m generally not a re-reader, like some of the others who have written about this topic. My TBR mountain – virtual though it may be – is practically insurmountable. There will always be SOMETHING new to try. But then I realized that there are a few books that have stayed with me through time. Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Crusie, which was the first romance I read as an adult and the one that made me feel like I could maybe do this writing thing, proof that there are stories out there like the ones I have to tell. Or Outlander, which I adore beyond almost all reason, and is nothing like anything I have ever written or likely will write. Then I thought of A Little Princess, remembering how I raced through the story so I could find out what would happen next to poor Sara Crewe, pitiful as she was in her attic room, making up stories to entertain Lottie.
In the end, though, I realized that the one enduring book for me will forever be Little Women. I found it for the first time when I was prowling through my school library in the third grade. I had recently read a biography of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, and particularly enjoyed the parts of the story about Juliette’s childhood during the Civil War. The beginning of the book, when Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are always waiting to receive letters from their beloved father, off on the battlefront as a Union chaplain, found me at the perfect time. I lost myself in the story immediately.
I treasured the stories that the girls made up to entertain themselves, raged at the injustice of Jo losing her manuscript when that little brat Amy burned it – not to mention Amy stealing Laurie! (I’m sorry. I don’t write fanfiction but if I did it would be Jo/Laurie POR VIDA.) I cried when Beth died, even though I knew it was coming after the first time. This was a story about down to earth characters who suffered from the effects of poverty or loneliness or pride. Who felt like real girls, someone I could have known as a neighbor or a classmate.
I’ve known since I was small that I wanted to be a writer. When I reached adulthood, I found that started seeking out romance and women’s fiction and all other types of stories about women for my reading material. It took me way too long and too many false starts with manuscripts that didn’t honor that for me to realize that all along I should have been writing stories about the everyday lives of women. I can trace that all back to Little Women, which showed me that stories about everyday girls were important and worth reading about.
Each time I’ve read Little Women, I’ve been in a different stage in my life, and different parts of the story seem more important. It’s so fun to see what I pick out each time. Aunt March’s betrayal by taking Amy to Europe instead of Jo still stings, though not as much now. My fury at Amy’s mistreatment over the pickled lemons has gone away. And now, loath as I am to admit it, I can KIND OF see in Friedrich what Jo does. A teeny tiny bit. Talk to me in ten years. (Still Jo/Laurie though. She can have them both. It’s fanfiction!)
When Louisa May Alcott wrote a story about four sisters in the 1860s, I don’t know if she realized how enduring her work would be. I am all the luckier for it though.
Bonus content! I particularly enjoyed Dirtbag Little Women, from The Toast.