No matter the background, life experiences or the personality quirks—every writer can trace their literary birth to a few exceptional books. These books for you may have done something for you emotionally, mentally—that hardly anything else could. It is like you picked it up—read it—and said—yes, this is art—the beauty that moves the soul. And as you journeyed through life and encountered more works of the written and oral word, you find yourself still thinking about those works that both captured and haunted you and remain with you like the faded edges of a dream.
One of the reasons why I named this blog Confessions of a Literary Goddess (as opposed to self-published goddess—Buy, Buy, Buy!) is because I wanted to create something that was a reflection of the sum of me. As a person who engages in creative storytelling, I am a combination of whirling fits of whimsy—stories, fictional and non-fictional—pleasant turn of phrases that seduced my ear, and books that defined the infinite possibilities of the human imagination.
I guess for me, as a writer, the type of books that I would classify as my favorite, are not necessarily the types of books that I would write. My style of writing is more a pastiche of multiple influences, which in turn makes it unique to me. So the type of works that really catch hold of me are the ones that force me to readjust my focus, and they move me deeply. And that says something, because out of the endless amount of books I’ve read in my life, it is rare that I can say that something moves me; those that do, are the ones that I classify as favored.
So the first book that I’m listing as part of my literary treasure is an odd one, as it is a book I’ve only read once in my life. Strange—I know for something I call a favorite—and yet although I only read this book once, in the near sixteen years since I read it, I have never forgotten it. In fact, out of all the books I’ve read, this one has the most haunting effect. The book is Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes.
I read this book in my Freshman year of high school, as it was required, and since it was required I didn’t give it much thought, because at the time I didn’t see myself as a writer. I had just discovered V.C. Andrews—who had full-on sex scenes—a step up from R.L. Stein, horror and make-out scenes—so that was much more appealing to me. However, from the very first page, I knew I was about to encounter something radical. The grammar was appalling—at times difficult to follow—and this threw me off, until I realized the intelligence behind the design. The main character, Charlie Gordon, is a sweet and naïve developmentally challenged man in his thirties. He becomes the subject of a radical experiment that is designed to alter this and dramatically advance his IQ. The experiment proved to be successful on mice—one named Algernon—and this particular mouse and Charlie’s fate are tied. The writing that is shown in the novel is his journal entries, which he is asked to keep. This provides in both content and structural form, direct and profound access into Charlie’s mind. The most fascinating thing to watch is how he develops, as the experiment becomes successful. His writing, intellect, and perception begin to improve dramatically and he goes from being developmentally challenged to a genius, fluent in several languages. As he advances he loses his naivety, and becomes painfully aware that those, whom he admired, really were using him and making fun of him. However with this loss, comes an incredible gain, as for the first time in his life, he experiences a romantic and sexual relationship with his former teacher. At the top of his game intellectually and emotionally, Charlie is at his peak.
This dramatic rise however is not set to last. Charlie starts to notice that Algernon is deteriorating and quickly realizes that he too will deteriorate. The novel then starts to take a sad and rather tragic turn, as Charlie desperately tries to maintain all that he has gained—and fails as everything gradually begins to slip away from him. As he starts to mentally deteriorate the writing, once again, begins to revert back to its earlier form—and this truly is the genius in the work. Nothing could be a more powerful symbol than this—and I can still remember the feeling of anguish I felt when I was literally reading—through the grammar—Charlie slipping away. At the end, when he appears before his teacher—his former lover whom he no longer remembers as such—in his old form, her devastation, and his confusion at it, encapsulates perfectly the totality of the loss.
The book’s tragedy haunted me so deeply, more especially because as a reader I was made to—SEE IT—that I found that I couldn’t bear to read it again. And yet that story, the incredible genius of that writing, has never left me. That I could remember so clearly in detail, a book that I read once sixteen years ago, speaks volumes. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest books ever written, and while I know I’ll never be that kind of a writer, it is with masterpieces such as this, that illustrate so clearly the power and the beauty of the written word.