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Lessons to learn from Author Anonymous: Read what you love

Lessons to learn 2Have you seen Authors Anonymous? I’ve never heard about it until I saw it at a Red Box.

When a dysfunctional group of unpublished writers accept Hannah into their fold, the last thing they expect is her overnight success. Can these lovable misfits achieve their artistic dreams and avoid killing one another in the process?

It looked cute and–come on–it’s about writers, so I rented it  despite my husband raising an eyebrow in his you’re really going to make me watch that kind of way. (For the record, I didn’t make him watch it. He’s not a big fan of mockumentary type movies, especially those with no car chases, explosions, or fight scenes.)

While this movie has been slammed by critics and was a tad slow at times, I still really enjoyed it! Chris Klein is adorable as John, the earnest Fitzgerald devotee who’s in love with Hannah, played by Kelly Cuoco. But mostly, I liked it because as an author, there was so much I could relate to!

  • The jealousy you feel when a friend is more successful.
  • The guilt you feel from being jealous of said friend.
  • How easy it is to allow personal issues to stifle your creative energy.
  • The pain of rejection.
  • The anxiety of success.
  • The humiliation of sitting through a book signing where absolutely no one has any interest in your book. (For me, this happened at 2007’s ALA, where Judy Bloom’s table was in the row beside me and her long, long line hooked all the way down my row with folks doing everything they can to avoid eye contact with me. Most. Uncomfortable. Hour. Ever.)

Lessons to learn from Author Anonymous: Read what you love

And as someone who’s been in this business for … oh, a long time, I also recognized the different types of writers portrayed:

  • The humble author who tries to write like his literary heroes rather than honor his own voice.
  • The writer who constantly talks about writing rather than writing.
  • The delusional self-published John K. Butzin, (played brilliantly by the late Dennis Farina,) who sees himself as the Writer of Roaring Lion rather than as a writer. Aka, a one book (not so) wonder.
  • The ditzy writer who can’t remember Jane Austen’s last name and seems to stumble into great success but actually works incredibly hard.
  • The writer who has tons of ideas but never follows through.
  • The shallow writer who believes that success should be presented rather than earned.

So, seeing as how there’s much to relate and learn from Author Anonymous, I thought I’d write a series of posts, rather than try to cram it in one long post. Spoiler Alert! For those who haven’t seen the movie yet, I will be talking about key plot points.

Today’s Lesson: Ignore classic-shaming. Read what you love.

Let’s take a look at one of the main characters, John (Chris Klein,) who has a deep appreciation and love for classic literature. After he finds out that Hannah doesn’t even know who F. Scott Fitzgerald is, he gives her his tattered, beloved copy of The Great Gatsby which Hanna never bothers to read. Why? Because she has no interest and she’s too busy writing to bother. Although John is perplexed by her lack of literary knowledge, he forgives what he views as a flaw. That is, until the night he delivers pizza to one of his favorite authors … who is a total jerk and had just slept with Hannah.

Hannah, apparently, likes jerks.

Out of pain and humiliation, John lashes out, berating and criticizing Hannah over her not reading Gatsby, spewing out titles of classics he’s sure she’s never even heard of, making her feel stupid by insinuating how he can’t believe she can call herself a writer if she’s never read this, this, or that. Hannah tries to explain how she just writes from the heart, but John doesn’t listen.

That is, until Hannah delivers her own belt-the-belt hit by reminding him that she’s the one with a book contract.

Ouch. Even though John was acting like a total book snob, that’s just about one of the most painful things to say to an unpublished author, but as someone who’s a.) never read Fitzgerald and b.) has no immediate plans to do so, I was cheering for Hannah.

Yes, it’s true. I never read The Great Gatsby.

I didn’t study classic literature in high school. I studied Cliffs Notes. I was the kind of student whose mother would say, “Great report card, honey, all C’s!” So it goes without saying that despite getting an A+ in Creative Writing, (my only A in high school,) I never once considered becoming a writer. That seemed impossible. Future writers were the smart honor-roll students who read Fitzgerald, wrote for the newspaper, and had big college plans. Not people whose favorite books were frilly Sweet Valley High ones.

Fast forward to 1998.

After I finally gathered enough courage to combat these notions and become a writer, one of my first logical steps was to go back and read all those classics I’ve ignored in favor of romance novels and epic tales by Jean Auel. I made a list of books that would make John swoon and headed to the library, determined to spend a year reinventing myself into an educated, sophisticated lover of fine literature and have wildly intelligent conversation at cocktail parties.

I started with Faulkner’s Sound of Fury.

Couldn’t make it past the first chapter.

Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea bored me.

The Catcher in the Rye? Yeah, didn’t like it, but I kept that to myself because it’s a classic! It’s genius! It’s the voice of a generation!

Jane Eyre? Okay, I absolutely loved that book and it gave me a huge desire to speak eloquently for weeks afterward. I also loved To Kill a Mockingbird, East of Eden, and Roots because they’re awesome but Crime and Punishment? Fahrenheit? Catch 22? Les Misérables? Didn’t finish, don’t plan on trying again.

(Well, maybe Les Misérables, seeing how it’s my favorite musical.)

Somewhere around this time, I came to realize that my Year of Reinvention was nothing but an epic fail. The fact that I either didn’t like or understand some of the “classics” made me feel stupid, illiterate, and no way in hell qualified to be a writer. Those old preconceived notions from high school came swarming back, making my author dreams seem foolish and a waste of time.

Fast forward to a gift from my husband.

Lessons to learn from Author Anonymous: Read what you love

Knowing how much I loved the movie Where the Heart Is, my husband came home from work one night with a gift–Billie Letts’ novel. I read it in one sitting. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It stirred up so many emotions that after finishing, I clutched the book to my chest and leaned back, recreating favorite moments in my head.

That’s when it hit me. Maybe Where the Heart Is will never be considered classic literature.

But who cares?

I loved it. I loved how Billie Letts created these wonderfully dynamic and kooky characters and simply told their story. She touched me by staying true to her voice and writing from the heart, which is the same exact thing that Hannah told John during their argument.

She just writes from the heart.

Whether or not you read classic literature doesn’t matter. There is no required reading list that must be completed before you’re qualified to become a writer. Moby Dick? Check. Mark Twain? Check. The Scarlet Letter? No? Yikes, back to the end of the line for you. Oh course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with other genres. You never know. You just might fall in love.

But never feel ashamed over your literary tastes.

Read what you love. Write what you love. Honor your voice. Love your voice.

Lessons to learn from Author Anonymous: Read what you love

And about those Sweet Valley High books. Writing this post reminds me of the time I participated on a young adult author panel at the Baltimore Book Festival. Someone in the audience asked what kind of books we read in high school. Uh-oh. Those old insecurities popped back in my head, especially after the first three authors expressed their love for Shakespeare and Hemingway and books like A Separate Peace–which I thought was just okay. Their responses made me feel like the DPDA. (Designated Panel Dumb … I’ll let you figure the rest.)

Soon it was my turn.

I have to admit, I was tempted to lie and spout off something classic in an effort to appear brainy, but you know what? It felt pretty good to tell the truth, how I read anything with a horse on the cover and every Sweet Valley High at least five times each. Why? Because they’re AWESOME books and really, if someone wanted to judge me for that, they can go right ahead. That didn’t happen, however. In return, I received tons of smiles and nodding heads and afterwards, a woman thanked me for saying that, since they were her favorite as well.

You are very welcome.

QOTD: So what about you, have you seen Author Anonymous? Have you ever felt judged by what you like to read … or not read?

Happy writing and reading!


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1 Comment

  1. Great review! I can’t wait to watch it.

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