A few weeks ago I took a Master Class, online, through the Academy offerings of A Public Space. The focus of the class grabbed me, even before the reputation of the master teacher, Danish author Dorthe Nors.

“Literary companions” was the focus; I was intrigued. The class blurb defined literary companions as “the writers one reads who are essential to one’s own work and writing life.” And, I have to admit, the more I started thinking about my own literary companions, the more I started thinking I might be a little loose, literary-ly.

Dorthe Nors (whose latest short story collection Wild Swims is on my teetering TBR tower) delivered an engaging lecture with a lot of insights into her own long-term literary companions: Ingmar Bergman and Tove Ditlevsen. Nors was also funny–noting that the best literary companions have already made their contributions to the literary world (in that they’re dead).

She posed a few questions to the class through our computer screens. Among them: who were your literary companions as children, as adolescents, in young adulthood, and as emerging or established writers? From an obsession with Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking stories as a little kid, I moved on to Judy Blume. You remember, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, don’t you? In college, I read all the Tom Robbins novels, Jitterbug Perfume, included. But these companions have come and gone, like the phases of life (and like a few terrible boyfriends along the way).

For writers, literary companions, Nors said, can help us find our voice and our material. But literary companions are just as important to avid readers. I bet you’re thinking of your favorite author, right now, aren’t you?

If there’s been an author who I’ve kept close to my side in recent times, as I’ve been working on my latest novel manuscript, it would be Tove Jansson, whom I fawned over here. And I don’t see letting her go any time soon. I admire Jansson for everything my writing is not: minimalist, with a keen eye for life in and of the natural world.

But there’s more to “literary companion” than the “literary” part. Nors’ discussion on the companionship she felt to her special authors–at a time when she felt very much alone, having gained some international fame (and subsequently lost some writing friends)–was very thought-provoking and touching.

And it took me back to why I first gravitated to books–why we all do, probably. At least in part it’s for solace, companionship when we feel friendless, and escape to a place where we feel we belong. And isn’t it glorious when we can escape with a cherished companion?

Do you have a writer or writers you would consider literary companions? What are you reading or writing this week?

Have you taken advantage of the many online offerings of classes–master and otherwise–during the pandemic? Have any good class recommendations for us?

Looking for Rust Belt author interviews, book reviews, and more? Check out my categories above, and find me on my FB page and over at Twitter as @MoonRuark

49 thoughts on “Relationship Status: Reading

    1. I still have yet to read Jansson’s THE WINTER BOOK–wanted to read it this winter but didn’t get to it. Loved THE SUMMER BOOK and her short stories. Mantel-as-companion sounds pretty great. (Rebecca sheepishly admits she’s only read her collection, THE ASSASSINATION…) I wonder if Mantel’s style is akin to yours or not. In our discussion in the class I talked about, it was interesting to hear that many writers gravitated to literary companions with very different styles to theirs, or, to literary companions who write very different forms.

      Thank you for commenting! Just checked out your blog–and am looking forward to reading your latest story and learning more about your academic research, so interesting!

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  1. I remember being upended by Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I went on to VC Andrews, but don’t hold it against me haha! Then onto Koontz and King and Varley. I read your post and was nodding yes yes yes– I wanted to escape into my books. I wished I were more like the characters I loved. After a particular VC Andrews story ended, I was so sad. It was like a friend died. I wanted the story to go on, and I wrote down (a miracle for the person I was then) a mission statement that I would create stories, too. That way I could keep my beloved characters close, always. Can’t wait to read your work! xoxo

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    1. Oh, I love that so much–that you wrote out your goal of creating stories, yourself. That’s so wonderful! I mean, how many of us are living our childhood dreams?! You can say you are! (I would be working in an ice cream shop, which would be pretty sweet, but alas.)

      Funny how we do fall in love with our characters, right? When I stopped working on my last WIP, if felt a little like divorce. I guess I’m on the rebound now–70K in and still writing. I can’t wait to read your new WIP, too!!! And thank you for being here, friend!

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  2. Hi, Rebecca! So enjoyed reading your post here (well, I always enjoy reading your posts!) because I saw where Dorthe was doing that class and I seriously considered it, but money and time held me back. I love Nors’ work, bought and read her latest even before it was released in the US (I’ll tell you, buying a book from overseas is a real treat — but at least I got it that way; I couldn’t wait until Graywolf published it here 😊). Anyway, so glad you took her class! Sounds like it was well worth it. As for literary companions, I guess I’d have to say mine are Mary Robison, Lydia Davis and Joy Williams … I return to their work often. As for writing, I’m working on a longish essay that keeps getting longer 🙂 And I’m quarantined and taking care of my husband, who just got Covid. He’s doing okay — for him, so far, he’s just been so tired … sort of like a major-major flu. Hope you’re getting a lot of writing done! Sounds like you are — stay with it … and stay safe! Deb

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    1. Ack! I’m so sorry your husband got COVID–take care, both of you.

      And I’m so happy to get your Nors recommendation. She was delightful and I can’t wait to read her stories. I haven’t taken many classes, during this time of SO MANY online workshop and lecture opportunities, but that one appealed. (Sometimes I wonder if I’m just stalling, wrapping up my novel draft!?)

      No surprise that you love some short story masters! I am so looking forward to getting back to that form, once I push this novel ms out. And, I’m super intrigued by your essay-in-progress–and would love to read it when you’re ready (if you’d like).

      Healing vibes to your husband and be well, Deb!

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      1. Thank you for your kind words, Rebecca! My husband is an athletic guy, and while he wants/needs to sleep, I also think it’s driving him crazy 😝 At least it’s spring-like in northern Indiana, so we can go outside and sit, get some sun. Yes, Nors — she’s wonderful. I love her stories because they’re short, sparse, sometimes rather simple, but “quiet” in a way I long for these days. Don’t stall on your novel! Wrap it up, get it out! Then get started on a new thing! LOL (I can give advice, I just can’t take it LOL) My essay is a collage-y thing that’s sort of fun to write, about my mother, but I’m edging on a personal side I’m not yet sure I’m ready to put into words. Still, I’m going to write the dang thing and then sit back and assess. Have a great, productive day! Deb

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  3. I find myself to fickle for a long term literary companion. My most recent favourite author is Trent Dalton. I loved his debut novel and have started reading his second book. I am also listening to Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series and enjoying it very much!

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    1. Ah, I don’t know either of those authors. Will investigate! I’m always looking for good audio books, especially while driving my boys to and from school. Yeah, “fickle” is what I’m going with, too. Good thing it doesn’t extend into other areas of my life! Thank you for chiming in here, Aggie!

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  4. A terrific read, makes me think a lot about what I read and the types of non-fiction I gravitate toward: first-person travel adventures, memoirs of entertainment, food of all kinds, especially the history of food. I have books on Cod, Potatoes, Oysters, Salt and more!

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    1. A book on cod–I love that. (We can’t go a fish Friday around here without one of my boys making a “Cod saves” joke.) So…now the big question, John. The genres you gravitate to–does your reading make you want to write your own memoir. And would it be about travel, entertainment, food, or all three?

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      1. One thing my blog is in many ways is a memoir: because I share stories about my adventures in entertainment, many of which involved travel to place like the Cannes Film Festival…plus travel adventures with my wife AND cooking challenges as well…in some way it’s being written a blog post at a time! Thanks for asking!

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      2. So very true! You are indeed writing your memoir, post by post. And your Instagram feed where you show us what you’re cooking for dinner–the cherry on top. Keep it coming. Such good stuff!

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  5. I like that concept of literary companions. I’ve definitely gone through many favorite authors through life. Barbara Kingsolver and Bill Bryson are a couple of favorites, but I read a lot!! My current “companions” include Timothy Egan and Erik Larson.

    I’ve been watching MasterClass videos since last fall. The only one I’ve completed was Ken Burns’s class on documentary film making, because he does such a wonderful job with American History. One of the ones (out of about 8) I’m doing now is Joyce Carol Oates. Judy Blume does one, too, but I’ve only watched one session with her. I don’t think I read any of her books.

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    1. Oh, I knew Barbara Kingsolver was one we share, Eilene. And, Erik Larson–wow, nobody brings history to life quite like he can!

      I’ve wondered about those MasterClasses–and Joyce Carol Oates’s in particular. If ever there was a perfect time to get people hooked on those classes, it’s during a pandemic and lockdowns. I am missing being in a classroom with other people and hope that can happen before too long.

      You’ve got so much new goodness up on your blog–you’ve been busy! Just read your “Made in Madison” post–what a civic-minded and creative family. Loved hearing about the singer, especially. Wow!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for visiting! I never tire of family history. I’ve been watching a lot of genealogy-related videos in the past year, too. I’ve kind of gotten a bit tired of being in front of the computer all the time, though.

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  6. I like the idea of literary companions. And I think I have had them 😛 It’s like asking, “Who’s your favorite author?” right? I mean, during different times in your life or someone you always return to, etc.

    I also think about particular books that have been like best friends, too.

    And honestly, I feel like all of a sudden there’s a slew of online courses and freebies running around, birthed by the pandemic, even though we’ve always had these types of things, but whoa, now, there’s so much! I took a memoir course with Curtis Brown Creative and last year I found one through Erika’s newsletter (I applied for a scholarship ~ it was a micro non-fiction course), but mostly I’m all about the freebies because I, sadly, don’t have the cash.

    But! If you apply yourself you can find so much, you just have to wade through it. Sigh. The classic question then comes up: What do you have more of Time or Money?

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    1. Yeah, maybe it’s a fancy way of asking, “Who’s your favorite author”–but one that is especially instructive, maybe. And, you’re right, of course, singular books can hold such a special place in our hearts. I just finished Caitlin Horrocks’ THE VEXATIONS, turned my library copy in, and went and bought a copy because I can’t wait to read it over and over. It’s a “quiet” novel, I suppose, but brings the like and times of piano composer Erik Satie to life. For anyone who likes art and music, or Paris–in the Toulouse Lautrec period–this book is it.

      YES! A slew! And I’m sure they’re not going away. Seems like the freebies, you’re in there with a couple hundred other writers; the ones that cost, maybe 30. Erik’s newsletter is great, by the way! (Also, I think A Public Space classes have some scholarships to offer.) For memoir, I wonder if Brevity or the Brevity blog’s editor have any classes going? How did you like your Curtis Brown one? (Also, you’re not on Twitter right? The flash/micro crowd over there is so strong/supportive.)

      I think I might give myself a class (from Jane Friedman) on query letter writing as a birthday gift–I took it as a sign that it falls on my actual birthday–because I can get easily distracted by all the class goodness out there and really need to be focusing on my novel manuscript!

      Hope your writing is going great, Lani! Keep me posted.

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      1. Thanks for the recommendations ❤ Yeah, I think because there's so much content to be found, and lack of funds, I'm cautious and picky. There are a couple of online pubs I support and after the CBC course, I paid for a 1 hour class recently because the writer gives so much of herself that I felt ready and able to support her in general. And I'm not adverse to scholarships, but I also know I need to hunker down and get what I have done. I think paying for an editor will be next. 😉

        You know, I want to recommend CBC but I can't. It wasn't the right one for me, but I'm trying to squeeze out as much from it as possible and I'm very open to the idea that the benefits of it will be reaped sometime in the future – I simply can't see it now. We can talk privately if that's something you're curious about, otherwise, no worries.

        JF is great and I'd like to take something from her. Maybe buy her book soon. I love her newsletter – but again, another big problem with classes that are on Zoom is the time difference, that alone cuts me out on 90%… which is why I love replays!

        Happy Birthday from the future, xo

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      2. I’m so thrilled for you that you’re ready for the editor phase of writing a manuscript!

        And, oh yes, the replays are key! Even without the doozy of a time distance.

        Well, thank you! But I have a little ways to go before my birthday– I figure it never hurts to plan gifts to myself ahead of time, ha!

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  7. Auden his poetic style licks my face like a loyal pup, Margaret Attwood and her world building, the undercurrant of evil that lurks in her work is sublime. PL Travers for the whimsy and darkness hints behind smiles and generous characters. Louisa M Alcott for hooking me in and making me live between pages and chapters for most of my life. Jon McGregor, his words, he makes move to the wheels of a train, he combines literary fly on the light switch with verse. I love them all. My novel has stalled due to obnoxious health issues so I poet when I can, flash quite a lot and have stories published in anthologies. I long for the day that my mind is clear enough once more to finish my debut, until then. …

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    1. What a tribute to your literary companions you’ve written here, Ellen! And here’s to living between pages and chapters–and writing what we can, when we can. I too hope you can finish your debut. But I’m impressed with your work in other forms! I’ll be stopping by your blog again soon…

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  8. Even as a child I was drawn to mysteries (Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew) were in the house as my sister. Still mysteries would be be go to when curling up. Companions in the last few years have been Louise Penny, Sue Grafton and recently found Elly Griffiths.

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    1. Mysteries are a comfort, aren’t they? I was also a Nancy Drew fan. And these days mystery shows are some of the only TV I watch. (Do you like any of the British ones? Vera, Luther, Shetland…I can’t get enough. Oh, and of course Sherlock.) But what would we do without our treasured books, Amelia!?

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    1. You’re more than welcome! Thank you for stopping by. One interesting discussion in that class I mentioned was around the idea that your literary companions may write completely differently than you–maximalist to your minimalism or vice versa, or even totally different genres. I don’t write poetry, but one of my (living) writer companions is the poet Ross Gay, whose voice and style and outlook speak to me and inspire my work–though I could never even attempt to write like him.

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      1. I smiled reading your reply to my comment here. For so long, I have felt like the only writer who won’t attempt poetry. It’s great to know I’m not the only one who stays out of the arena.

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  9. Judy Blume…those were the days. It is so hard to choose one, Lordie I wish I spoke as brilliantly as a Shakespearean fool. I love writers who put me in a world I don’t know and do it with a sweet turn of phrase. I read Walter Mosley and I am a world weary, street wise, middle-aged Black man. I read for info and to slake curiosity so Bios are all that. Killer Angels fills me with awe as I cannot tolerate war novels and yet, yet this Pullitzer Prize winner remains, IMHO, one of the best historical novels written.

    Who do I reach for comfort? It’s silly, life is hard. Life is surreal. And so I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Disc World series. You think it’s SciFi fantasy about a world of Wizards, witches, elves, gnomes, animorphic personifications of physical laws of the universe, all with Death, Tooth Fairies, social constructs and Mr. Teatime from the Assassins Guild thrown in, but, no, it’s an astoundingly astute commentary on the foibles of government and life in general. But done in a merry way to lift the spirits. Boy howdy, we need some spirit lifting.

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    1. Yes, the Judy Blume days were great! But I think you’re right that who we read plays a big part in who (or what kind of reader and writer) we become. How is it I’ve never heard of Killer Angels? Just had to go look it up. (And I have been to the battleground in Gettysburg–so I know I would find it interesting!)

      And Mr. Teatime sounds very fun (except for maybe the Assassins part)! I think SciFi fantasy is probably perfect for comfort and escape. It’s funny, I didn’t grow up reading SciFi or fantasy (not even The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and so I’ve been introduced to a whole new world(s) of reading through my kids.

      I’m not sure I could write fantasy, but it’s nice to escape reality by reading it, sometimes.

      And YES to spirit-lifting. Visited your blog, and I will be back!

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      1. Thank you! I shall return to yours also..you are the voice of my 4th grade teacher. I was so far ahead of grade level, did they challenge me, no, they took me out of class to help in the lunchroom!?! Anyway..she was always sure I’d grow up to be a writer.

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  10. It is now, after i turned 50, that i understand why i was so drawn to read Herman Hesse as a teenager. His minimalist writing style and simple storylines were used to convey a much deeper spiritual message. About the ineffable nature of life and the eternal aspect of ourselves.

    After decades, if there was another author who evokes a similar degree of attention, it would be Haruki Murakami. For his ability to pay attention to and draw deep meaning out of the seemingly absurd, ordinary or irrelevant.

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    1. Isn’t it wonderful how these special authors find us? I have been drawn to more spiritual writing, myself, the older I get (and the more reading I do). And isn’t it wonderful when these authors get into our subconscious minds–and our writing!? I’m glad you found your companions, and thank you for sharing here!

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  11. The books that resonated with me in my younger years are “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” and “Where the Red Fern Grows.” I read Mocking Bird a couple of different times, but I could only read Red Fern once. The death of the dogs broke my heart. However, both books made quite an impact. I’m a big Jodi Piccoult fan along with Gillian Flynn. I’m leaning toward thrillers more as I get older. LOL! I just finished “American Dirt.” That was really good!

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    1. Oh, those early books we read really stick with us, don’t they, Lisa? It’s been a long time since I read …Mocking Bird, and it’s probably time to revisit it. Funny how our taste in books changes over time. You with your thrillers–love it! I find that my kids’ tastes in books have influenced me; I never read fantasy (or graphic novels either) until my guys came along. There was so much negative drama around American Dirt over at writer Twitter, not enough to damage her sales, I don’t think. And I do love to see readers choose for themselves. (Readers, and not marketers and publicists, should be the ultimate judges of quality reads, I think!)

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