I was going to dinner with a delightful man, a True Literary Believer with no time for cynicism or discouragement. He’s a fulltime, loving husband and father—but that doesn’t stop his writing, operating an online magazine, or giving workshops and readings. Moreover, he writes a daily blog. All his work appears devoted to helping writers.
I wanted to offer this admirable fellow a gift—to show him essentially who I am; to show him what my writer’s heart—and all the products that issue from it—is made of.
Certainly, I wanted to show off. I wanted to impress. But finally, I wanted my friend to hold in his hands the ultimate jewel of my artist’s life, that colors and drives everything I do and stand for.
The heart-book contains our spiritual and artistic DNA. It’s two parents in one, progenitor of soul and personality and voice and vision. A finite concentrate.
I thought hard about it, and decided that the book-of-all-books would (for me, for a million reasons) have to be the late, beloved William Maxwell’s slender novel, So Long, See You Tomorrow.
I reserved a copy at my local bookstore. And once I’d collected the revered little volume and began my drive to the restaurant, a slow, internal joy began to break.
Why? Because it occurred to me that most readers (and especially writers) each have a heart-book—likely without even knowing it or stopping to think about it. Each of us, I think, carries deep within a crucial few books that power our inmost beings.
I decided (since I’m boss of this notion for the moment) that people should be allowed to name a heart-book for the life of childhood, too.
“You hear a big bang in childhood,” noted my dear friend, author and teacher Thaisa Frank (no relation). And that certainly applies to the big bang of early reading, when we are so raw and undefended that stories explode like supernovas in our souls, creating galaxies that twinkle and spin there ever after. Mine would be a three-way tie (and I know that’s cheating, but remember, I’m temporary boss), for Charlotte’s Web, Little Women, and maybe To Kill a Mockingbird.
And the fruit of this reasoning? It leads quickly and logically to one voluptuous, shamelessly personal question to ask of friends and family (besides how spicy you like your curry).
What’s your heart-book?
Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Life, just nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.