I’ve been surprised a couple times in the past few years by a powerful feeling of regret when I learn that an author whom I just discovered, has just recently died.
This happened first with Alice Steinbach. I was Googling her to find out more about her life after reading both Without Reservations and Educating Alice, and being intensely curious how she achieved such a liberated life, how she accomplished it. However, what I found was her obituary in the Baltimore Sun, where she worked as a journalist for many years. I was living in Washington, DC at the time (2012), and so it felt particularly bitter that she’d been less than an hour away all that time I’d been in the city, loving her books, but not knowing she was there!
Her books have a special place in my heart because they embrace the feeling of courage and a little recklessness and self-confidence on which a solo female traveler often relies. A frequent solo female traveler at that point, I devoured her witty observations, her right-on-the-money understanding of how it feels to be ‘That Woman’ and finally not bother to answer for it. Delicious!
Plus, Educating Alice includes an internship (if that’s what it’s called when you just want to learn about the profession, not take it up) at a sheep farmer’s in Scotland that specialized in training sheepdogs.
I mean, come on, who doesn’t think that is Bad-Ass?
The next time it happened was a couple months ago, after I read the first of a young adult series: Jennie About to Be, by Elizabeth Ogilvie. I had found the series when I went looking through the local library’s catalog for young-adult novels set in eastern Canada or upper New England, and here was one who was well-known for writing about her native Maine!
I found the second in the series first, Jennie Glenroy, but couldn’t bear to start in the middle. (Sue me.) So, I checked out the first one, and hey! It’s set in Scotland! Shucks. I hate reading about Scotland…
One Goodreads reviewer did a great job describing what she liked about Ogilvie’s Jennie, so I’ll paste a piece of that here:
When I finished the book, captivated by that very realism and gutsiness, I looked her up, and found she was also gone: 2006. Bah! My bootless cries go unheard. But at least one person still laments that the author who wrote those stories of personal fortitude and moral courage is no longer around.
And finally… a happy ending:
I came across this author in between the above two, but when I cast about in my head for great modern female authors I wish I could’ve talked to, the name Rosamunde Pilcher popped up. I’d read her September, and while it was long and involved, it was also a fascinating marker of the times: the late 1970s/early 80s seemed to be living in her characters’ judgement, attitudes, and in particular language. Their social class, their upbringing, their times, were all reflected in how they spoke and how they treated each other: it was like cracking open the British upper crust’s psyche!
Or at least that’s how it felt to this American from the 2000s.
But I went to Google her, and she is still alive! Retired from writing at 89, but maybe she will feel the appreciative karma floating her way: a sparkle of interest in what she wrote about, because of how well she portrayed the difficulty of life, at any time, in any place, for any station in life.
What about you?
Not counting authors you knew were dead before you read them, who would you most liked to have conversed with?
Images via Teagan Oliver
I can’t think of anyone I missed out on a chance to meet (though it makes me want to review my bookshelf and make some plans just to be sure), but I am very grateful for the few times I was able to meet and talk with David Foster Wallace. The brief conversations I had with him at various readings and events left a strong mark on me, even before he passed away.
DFW! That’s a big one, and an experience to treasure, I’m sure. My moment with Diana Gabaldon early this summer was a little embarrassing- can you say starstruck? Next time, though, I must bring my manuscript… 😉