Voracious novel readers just can’t get enough.
Their “to-read” laundry lists are pages long, and no matter how hard they try to diversify, their favorite authors can cast one little come-hither glance, and the author’s newest book is on their nightstands again.
Jane Hamilton is one great-American novelist whose books have been stacked by bedsides since the release of her first novel.
But even such a brilliant writer as Hamilton said it’s her readers who move her forward.
The award-winning author of such acclaimed titles as “A Map of the World,” “The Book of Ruth,” “Disobedience” and “When Madeline Was Young,” recently looked into the rearview mirror of her work for a never-before-seen reflection that has taken her down a new road in fiction with “Laura Rider’s Masterpiece.”
Hamilton will talk all about it when Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and Hedgebrook launch their 2010-11 Literary Series with “An Evening with Jane Hamilton and Elizabeth George.” The series starts at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5.
“My best ideas are from readers,” Hamilton said.
“My best understanding of my work is from readers. Even if I’m repeating myself, the audience is different. That’s why it’s still fun to be out and about.”
The WICA/Hedgegrook series brings both writers and book lovers out for an evening of intimate conversation and to hear local artists read excerpts of the authors’ works.
In this first conversation of the season, George, the Langley resident and author of the Detective Lynley series of crime novels, including her most recent, “This Body of Death,” will interview Hamilton onstage.
Hamilton said she always looks forward to the chance to sit with an audience.
“Things keep happening, the world keeps changing, the work keeps changing; there is always something new to talk about,” she said.
It was “The Book of Ruth” that was first stacked on nightstands 21 years ago. Even Oprah Winfrey had it by her bed, and then made it a best seller with her star-making book club.
“The Book of Ruth” won the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for the best first novel with its heart-wrenching and sometimes violent story of Ruth, a young woman living in a rural Illinois town who looks back on the people who have shaped her life, including her runaway father, shrewish mother and crazy husband.
With “A Map of the World,” Hamilton delved into the heartbreaking drama of a rural American family dealing with the guilt and betrayal that came after a 2-year-old drowns in their pond while under the main character’s care.
Many of Hamilton’s novels have dealt with the starker realities of human relationships, set against the backdrop of an unrelenting rural landscape.
But with her new novel, which she describes as a social satire, Hamilton said she wanted to do something completely different.
“Also, I was angry and frightened,” Hamilton said.
“We had come to a place in the culture where there are more writers than readers. I had been teaching a writing workshop, where no one seemed ever to have read a book. This scared the hell out of me,” she said.
So Hamilton did what any self-respecting, freaked-out novelist would do.
“I wrote a book about a woman who wants to write a book, but she’s never read a book,” Hamilton said.
“It made me laugh every day for a year. It cheered me up immensely. I’m extremely grateful to Laura Rider.”
“Laura Rider’s Masterpiece” tells the story of Laura and Charlie Rider who have been married for 12 years. They share a nursery business in rural Wisconsin, as well as a love for animals and telling stories.
But everything is not quite peachy in paradise, and Charlie’s insatiable enthusiasm in the bedroom has gotten old for Laura. She has put the kibosh on sex. Still, they remain happy enough to go along in their routine.
Jenna Faroli is the host of a popular radio show, and in Laura’s mind she is “the single most famous person in the Town of Dover.” When Jenna happens to cross Charlie’s path one day, and they begin an e-mail correspondence, Laura cannot resist using Charlie to try out her new writing skills.
Together, Laura and Charlie craft florid, strangely intimate messages that entice Jenna in an unexpected way. The “project” quickly spins out of control, and the result is hilarious and poignant. It also surprises Laura beyond her wildest expectations.
The evening will also feature Hamilton reading from her book, along with staged readings of scenes from “Laura Rider’s Masterpiece.”
Local actors Shelley Hartle and Patsy Brereton will bring the characters of Jenna Faroli and Laura Rider to life in a scene onstage from the book, while Vito Zingarelli narrates.
Hamilton will then be interviewed by George, followed by a question-and-answer period with the audience.
It was George, in fact, who introduced Hamilton to Hedgebrook, where the author will teach a master class from Nov. 4-11 titled “Beginnings,” which she said requires one to talk about absolutely everything, including middles, endings, plot, character, setting, language, punctuation, what to include and what to leave out.
Hamilton, who lives and works in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin, is looking forward to visiting the island. She has some friends here whom she knew for years growing up in Oak Park, Ill. She also said she is excited to visit a place that has mountains, evergreens, the Sound and delicious mussels, none of which exist in rural Wisconsin.
When teaching a class on writing, Hamilton said that one of the deep secrets of teachers is that they learn at least as much — and usually more — than the students.
“So, we pretend to draw out, but the students tend to be so insightful and smart, so committed, that it’s always an illuminating experience for me,” the author said.
“What’s valuable in a workshop is the listening of the whole group, and together coming to understand what the piece is, and where it can go.”
Ultimately, she said, she would like writers to finish a workshop understanding what they love about their own work.
“I’d love for them to go home and spend the next few months writing what they’ve hoped to write,” she said.
Moonraker Books will be on hand in the lobby selling several of Hamilton’s books, with opportunities for the author to sign them after the show.
Tickets cost $8 and are available with a click here
or at the box office; 221-8268.