Jane Reads Anything But Straight, White Men for Another Year

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” —Cicero

I love sentences, especially opening ones. I hate even numbers, love odd ones. A little late to the year-in-review game, I collected the first sentences of my 11 favorite reads of 2016.

A little background: in 2014, a year after graduating with my MFA, I read a book I had always craved, which work, school and life had kept me from: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. I moved the mass-market paperback for several years, to three different states, before opening it. I read most of it on the porch in a rocking chair, then I read another book by a woman then another and another.

Before knowing it was a thing, I wanted only books by women, and after learning about #ReadWomen, I did it on purpose, eventually incorporating LGBTQIA writers and POC. A brown woman, I have alway sought books reflecting lives like mine, but fully committing to this reading challenge has introduced me to countless worlds. A nosy writer with dreams of writing full-time in an office near my bed, I often read the writer bio, blurbs, and acknowledgements first. As I’ve heard—and said—a lot lately, good people know good people, and good books have led me to good books.

One day, I want to read Lolita and Moby Dick, but now is not that time, not even close. Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, and what I’m gaining feels immeasurable. With the amazing book lists abound (here and here and here and here), I pray for a long, healthy life of reading.

And, finally, the first sentences of my 11 favorite reads of 2016 in the order I read them:  

“1. Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.” —Maggie Nelson, Bluets

“Niche dating sites are interesting.” —Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

“What, Mahi, you still awake?” —Kathleen Tyau, A Little Too Much Is Enough

“Serafina held the Virgen de Guadalupe curled in her palm.” —Susan Straight, Highwire Moon

“Philadelphia and Jubilee!’ August said when Hattie told him what she wanted to name their twins.” —Ayana Mathis, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

“In the body, where everything has a price, / I was a beggar.” —Ocean Vuong, Night Sky With Exit Wounds

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” —Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

“The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.” —Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

“I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.” —Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

“My mother was waiting in front of our house when I rode up in a taxi.” —Mia Alvar, In the Country

 

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Jane Rebels Against Her Reading List

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” —Oscar Wilde

I hate being told what to do. Even when I’m the one doing the telling: work out, save money, eat more raw things. In 2015, I finished 32 books, my personal high, and I vowed to read more in 2016. Because it felt fun, I organized a reading list, courtesy of Modern Mrs. Darcy, for the year.

Surprise—I hardly obeyed it. Obsessive, I strayed, found myself on three reading tangents: Hawai‘i writers, nonfiction, and titles featuring the word sky in them. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. Stones of the Sky. Night Sky With Exit Wounds.

Because I hate failure, I edited my reading aspirations, which appear below. While I failed to imbibe the books I intended to—and it feels sacrilegious crossing beautiful titles and authors out—they remain on my ever-multiplying TBR list. I will return to them. The House of the Spirits waits for me, on hold at the library; Green Island stands on the shelf in my office; The Lover, which I bought two Thursdays ago during my first visit to Half Price Books, decorates the coffee table.

Here is how I failed last year, but—I have to tell you—failing feels a lot like success:

  • A book published this yearGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • A book you can finish in a dayThe Lover by Marguerite Duras Hawai’i One Summer by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • A book you’ve been meaning to readThe Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Rolling the R’s by R. Zamora Linmark
  • A book recommended by your local librarian or booksellerHow to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak Balikbayan by Michelle Cruz Skinner
  • A book you should have read in schoolI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
  • A book chosen for you by a spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFFBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • A book published before the year you were bornSula by Toni Morrison To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • A book that was banned at some pointThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  • A book you previously abandonedTales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich Cherry by Mary Karr
  • A book you own but have never readMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
  • A book that intimidates you Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • A book that you’ve already read at least onceLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Jane Reads Anything But Straight, White Men for a Year

“She was lost in her longing to understand.” —Gabriel García Márquez

Last year, a colleague lent me Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and I accepted it, even though I retched inside. At my desk, the hardcover sits uncracked, blanketed by a film of dust. For this book, I furnished a collateral, a title I hunted down using my indie bookstore resources: multiple search databases, a 30% discount. I will miss that California writer because I can’t make myself read that Pulitzer winner right now, and I do not have the heart to tell my dear friend.

The Bad

My life is held together by lists. We know our kind—how we include one already completed thing to immediately check (it helps stave off Sisyphean angst). But a problem with lists is sometimes things are overlooked, or purposefully excluded. In Litreactor’s “5 Female Short Story Writers You Should Be Reading RIGHT NOW!,” Keith Rawson confesses he is “colorblind” before emphatically (see the caps) plugging the previously mentioned. He is, indeed, colorblind because he neglects and/or ignores people of color, which is painstakingly clear from the displayed head shots. In the Goodreads Blog’s20 Favorite Last Lines from Books,” seven out of twenty of the writers featured are women. Zero POC are represented. And this is just a sampling of what I have clicked on lately.

The Better

In Lit Hub’s “Men Explain Lolita To Me,” Rebecca Solnit posits, “[M]aybe the whole point of reading is to be able to explore and also transcend your gender (and race and class and nationality and moment in history and age and ability) and experience being others.” Unfortunately, some lists don’t support this notion. Thankfully some lists do. Buzzfeed Books features a heart-lifting list “51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature” that features a fantastic mix of writers, writtenof courseby one of us. Recently, the National Endowment for the Arts released a list of the 2016 creative writing fellowship recipients, and that list makes me feel like maybe I, with much hard work and even more luck, have a speckle of a chance in the literary world.

My Reading Past

All of my reading life, I have compiled a TBR list, and have favored women and “diverse” books subconsciously. When referencing books I had read in college courses, shoulder shrugs and note scribbles greeted me, but that is a separate essay. 

Post-grad school, I attacked that list and am embarrassed to say that once upon a not-so-distant time Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Joan Didion and ZZ Packer were strangers to me. When someone mentioned them, I wore blank bug eyes, or I grinned, nodded, made a mental note and changed the subject. As I cross the names and titles off my list, it, the only list I feel comfortable with growing, grows. Who do these writers that I love love? blurb? recommend? I must know the insides of those books, too.

So what kept me from reading the writers I wanted to read? To name several: syllabi and other required reading; the availability of books at libraries, stores, online; books shoved at me without considering, well, me; what was popular, faced-out, in the glossies. Then, I was young and dumb. I didn’t have enough power to not read what everyone else was reading, so I read Slaughterhouse Five, I read Bukowski, I read The Catcher in the Rye, and I honestly liked them because some pain is universal. But the books that I love most are about the pains that aren’t, and I am in charge of my own reading now and as Eleanor Roosevelt asserted, “With freedom comes responsibility.”

My Reading Present

In August 2014, I began reading women writers exclusively, actively. I purchased only books by women. From the library, I requested and checked out only books by women. Therefore, I recommended only books by women. I didn’t miss the white male point-of-view one bit. I did, however, miss other POVs. A year later, I expanded my reading lens to male POC and LGBTTQQIAAP writers. So, yes—like Nicole Perkins declared in LA Times’s “A Response to ‘On Pandering’”—I only avoid books written by straight, white men, except for colleagues I respect and support. Bless the male feminists and the white people who get it; as Elena Ferrante said in her Financial Times interview, you are a minority, too.

In 2015, I read 32 books. Their first sentences are featured below, followed by the author and title. Please find a pen and keep it close to add the ones that whisper themselves into your heart to that TBR list.


“‘You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you.’” —Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

“Strange happenings, Chloe knows, can take place in a town built on tragedy.” —Shawna Yang Ryan, Water Ghosts

“Sometimes our steersman sounded like he was having really hot sex back there in Six, but that was only when the canoe was moving.” —Lisa Linn Kanae, Islands Linked By Ocean

“Lydia is dead.” —Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

“Start the volcano again; I’m watching.” —Mary Ann Samyn, The Boom of A Small Cannon

“She is plucking her bird of paradise of its dead branches, leaning around the plant every time she hears a car. —Julia Alvarez, In the Time of Butterflies

“What Makes Iago Evil? some people ask.” —Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays

“Me and Jasmine and Michael were hanging out at Mr. Thompson’s pool.” —Danielle Evans, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

“In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.” —Joan Didion, Blue Nights

“Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the ètagére.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

“I’ve been called Bone all my life, but my name’s Ruth Anne.” —Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina

“Dear Ol’ Dirty Bastard: I too like it raw, / I don’t especially care for Duke Ellington / at a birthday party.” —Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn

“My name is Ruth.” —Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

“The paint doesn’t move the way the light reflects / so what’s there to be faithful to?” —Richard Siken, War of the Foxes

“Joey felt that his romance with Daisy might ruin his life, but that didn’t stop him.” —Mary Gaitskill, Bad Behavior

“May in Ayemenem is a hot brooding month.” —Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

“The Stark River flowed around the oxbow at Murrayville the way blood flowed through Margo Crane’s heart.” —Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River

“My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings.” —Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“A voice mistook for stone / jagged black fist / thrown miles through space, through / doors of dark matter.” —Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise

“I met all four of them at an off-site catering event for the opening of their new Minimally Invasive Spine, Back and Neck Group.” —Merritt Tierce, Love Me Back

“Every Friday at 4:30, they gathered cross-legged on the brown shag rug, picked at its crust of mud and glitter and Elmer’s glue, and leaned against the picture book shelves.” —Rebecca Makkai, The Borrower

“By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909.” —ZZ Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” — Zadie Smith, White Teeth

“The mother jiggles her key in the ancient lock, nudges open the heavy oak door with her shoulder, and then freezes on the threshold.” —Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage

“When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.” —Claudia Rankine, Citizen

“1956.” —Jessica Hagedorn, Dogeaters

“On the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, my mother confessed to his murder.” —Nora Okja Keller, Comfort Woman

“Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“I dream of her still.” —Nora Okja Keller, Fox Girl

“What’s your story? —Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake / and dress them in warm clothes again.” —Richard Siken, Crush

“Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Jane Purges Some Books

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” —Madeleine L’Engle

The Stars

Once upon a time, I used horoscopes as bookmarks. Every year, I bought a specific calendar, a page-a-day with a forecast for each weekday and one for the weekend. Two friends, a Pisces and a Taurus, shared in this tradition. When we talked about a missed bus; a three-table, twenty-dollar waitressing shift; a long look, a precarious link of words, we’d ask, “What did your horoscope say?” We’d answer by digging the slip of paper, as small as a business card, out of our purse or pocket; or by cursing then vowing to look when we got home, or reciting it to the best of our ability for further analyzing.

I forgot how much joy this seven-dollar purchase brought to our twenty-something lives until I found one peeping out of book I didn’t finish. Regarding June 21-22, the stars prophesied, “Do yourself a favor. If you’re unsure whether an endeavor is right for you, try to listen to that little voice within. It wouldn’t be wise to override your instincts and in this case your intuition is likely providing you the wisdom you seek.” 

The Books (Also Stars)

At any given time, there are at least five stacks of TBR books in our house. Here are the constants, which are as certain as debt:

  • The coffee table stack – The pretty ones mixed with our magazines
  • The carpeted step stack – The library books
  • The writing desk stacks – The loaned books, and the recently purchased or gifted books
  • The bedside table stack – The current reads, varying from one to five books

Those are just the TBR. My actual collection claims four spots in the house:

  • The writing desk collection – The ones I need close to me while I work; poetry, craft and oft-referenced favorites
  • The bedroom collection – The perfect-to-me ones I adore that I want to seep into my brain and skin while I sleep
  • The hallway collection – The ones beautiful enough to display under one of Waylon’s sarcastically baroque store-clearance finds
  • The guest bedroom collection – The not-so-pretty ones; abused teaching books, research books, coursework books and English anthologies

And because I am just one woman who works, writes, blogs, tweets, runs, cooks, cleans and loves, who can only read so fast, all of the stacks and collections give me all of the anxiety. 

The Purging

I contemplate each book, plucking the ones I thought I could live without, whether that meant selling them, donating them or adding them to the mysterious lending library at work. During this hard task—consider my books are a part of me and to relinquish one is to shed a part of myself—any of the following increases their chances of survival:

  • It was a gift
  • It is signed by the author
  • The author signed it under a personal, witty and/or inspirational note
  • It prompts a memory 
  • There is far too much embarrassing marginalia
  • It was written by a writer I like, whose book I stopped reading because of (maybe?) bad timing and I intend to give it another whirl

The Words

Of my collection, I was able to extract 16 books. Some barely cracked. Some badly beaten. In some, old AWP bookmarks exhibit where I just couldn’t anymore. In them are my paper trails (boarding passes, packing slips, receipts, class discussion questions from grad school, candy wrappers). Wanting to give them each one last chance, I placed them in a box and read their first sentences—compiled here—and sometimes I continued on. 


“My name is Eva, which means ‘life,’ according to a book of names my mother consulted.” Isabel Allende, Eva Luna 

“James Arthur Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924.” —Randal Kenan, The Fire This Time

“’When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,’ Papa would say, ‘she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, walzing around her, hypnotized with longing.’” —Katherine Dunn, Geek Love 

“‘Shall we let them have a little music?’ asked Emily, and she wound up the musical box.” —Kate Bernheimer, House, Flower, Bird 

“It was the cruelest winter.” —Joshua Ferris, The Unnamed

“Rochelle appeared at the office one day looking young and somewhat frightened, walking with tentative steps on the arm of her husband, who soon broke away like a discreet booster rocket and disappeared down the stairwell door, leaving her to walk forward alone, more abashed, to meet the rest of us.” —Joan Frank, In Envy Country

“Around the grave in the rundown cemetery were a few of his former advertising colleagues from New York, who recalled his energy and originality and told his daughter, Nancy, what a pleasure it had been to work with him.” —Philip Roth, Everyman

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” —Zadie Smith, White Teeth 

“I. Start with the Roman numeral I with an authoritative period trailing just after it.” —Ander Monson, Neck Deep and Other Predicaments

“In Millais’s painting, Ophelia dies faceup, / eyes and mouth open as if caught in the gasp / of her last word or breath, flowers and reeds / growing out of the pond, floating on the surface / around her.” —Natasha Tretheway, Bellocq’s Ophelia 

“It’s time to wash the elephant.” —Hannah Tinti, Animal Crackers

“I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time.” —Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children 

“Carla heard the car coming before it topped the little rise in the road that around here they called a hill.” Alice Munro, Runaway 

“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.” —William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

“I am living at the Villa Borghese.” —Henry Miller, The Tropic of Cancer 

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” —Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway


Some books were inscribed by former owners, Lynn Reyer and Kim Wagner. Some owners included the date they obtained the book, May 1989. I found bookmarks: other’s, a metal cross, and my own. One was easy to give away, a present from a dreadful ex. I or someone else dog-eared the following pages: 11, 25, 27, 30, 99, 158, 189, 314, 445.

The Keepsake

Even though revisiting these books gave me a serious case of the feels, I hardened my heart and decided to let all of them go. Except one. A friend’s book.

A boring summer day, I pulled it off of the shelf and paged through it. She tossed her dark, wavy hair over her shoulder to look at me with her overwhelming eyes, all of her life at her surface, and said, “You can have it, if you want.”

Flipping through it cemented that it’s not something I can part with. Not when she has marked passages like this from “Index for X and the Origin of Fires”:

Questions, of which you have

many, of which I have many,

and as such you and I are in

this case equal to we, to oui, to

wee—is there anything we can

say to stand up to the machi-

nations of the text, or will it

have its way with us, will it

knock us to the ground.

Jane Pokes Around for a Writing Tribe

What you seek is seeking you.” –Rumi

My oldest friend and I share a dull Midwestern hometown and have cursed it longer than we have known each other. After a decade of itching for bigger cities (and sating) then sunnier, coastal cities, we finally moved West.

It’s been a year since she and I relocated and, still, we have failed to meet a kindred spirit. We have met convenient people. Coworkers, who like the same teams or movies or bands as us, who share similarities like appreciating money, beer, the beach, music, but–alas–no soul sisters. As Irving Stone wrote, “There are no faster friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.”

In the Xerox room, a green aluminum file holder perches on the shelf. Several books lean in its arms. Of these mostly lackluster books, one, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, hooks my eye. I reach for it. I hold it in my hands. I flip through it. 65 is dog-eared, the third page of “Remember the Alamo.” I see no marginalia, no underlinings, no stars or hearts. I obsess over the simple mystery. What made this person bend the page? I feel grief. My own. Maybe theirs too.

Sandra Cisneros is dear to me. I first encountered “My Name” in an introductory writing course. Like the protagonist Esperanza, I am my great-grandmother’s namesake:

It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horsewhich is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female–but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.

My great-grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.

In two paragraphs, Cisneros had shaved away a little of my pain. My name pain. My Chinese pain. My female pain. Pain I thought would never leave or lessen. I drove straight to the bookstore, bought the book and read it cover to cover.

Pre-Cisneros, certain books spoke to me (the misfits and the hope of possibility in A Wrinkle in Time, the art of letters and the salvation of friendship in The Perks of Being a Wallflower; the pains of new places and feeling like the only one in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.), but The House on Mango Street rendered me stunned. In the first self-titled vignette, I underlined the passage “Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed.” On the next page, I underlined half of “Hairs,” and the rest of the book goes like that. “People write about this?” I said over and over, the question drenched in wonder. Her words were an open invitation for me to write about my experience. In my beloved copy, I dog-eared ten pages. In my beloved copy, a receipt holds my place, so I can easily revisit a passage that I love again and again. The bar tab is from May 7, 2008 for $20.90 at our downtown watering hole.

Where I fell in love with writing, I also fell in love with some writers, drinking after workshop. We frequented spots with the music low enough so we could hear each other. We exchanged stories, we shared books, we divulged and kept secrets, we gushed, we challenged each other, we inspired each other, we tore pens out of our bags to record things on napkins, and the ones of us that kept in touch drove highway miles and flew in planes after we dispersed to reunite again and again because no one can replace them in those parts of our hearts and brains they own.

For a bibliophile, book abuse (folding the top and bottom corners, breaking bindings, ripping pages and tattering covers) and graffiti (the happy faces and scrawled notes in blank spaces) draws a line from the book to us. What Cisnerosism made them look inside themselves? Or, what part of them is always waiting at the surface, listening? What phrase or sentence or sequence cut to their core? Was it “Say it. Say you want me. You want me”? Was it “Then he sent the ring, little diamonds set in the shape of Texas”? Was it “Smoke in the mouth”?

For a bibliophile, loving the same phases, sentences and sequences makes us belong to each other. Is my literary soul mate working just offices down from mine? Can we meet at a bar, where the music is low enough so we can hear each other’s histories? If I ask you again and again what you have underlined, starred and hearted, or scribbled in the margins, will you love me for it? Or is it better for two coy people to never know each other?

Jane Slouches Towards Joan Didion

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” ―Joan Didion

My best writer friend (BWF) is obsessed with California. We connected instantly. I, too, know the complicated pains and parental joy of deeply loving a place. Plus, when there wasn’t a lot of Hawaiian literature available, I read California writers because, often, it was the closest I could get: the similar flora and fauna; we stared at the same ocean.

It’s nice to have someone you can share your darkest secrets with. When I spoke myself bare to my BWF―”I have never read Joan Didion”―she gasped, like she was coming up for air after being caught in a riptide. Those wide eyes and an O for a mouth. I hid my face until she confessed, “Me too.” 

She opened Slouching Towards Bethlehem first. Like an amazing BWF, she xeroxed copies of the Hawaii mentions, but I couldn’t wait for the snail mail and hurried to the library. I finished the book in two days. Reading Didion’s sentences felt like surfing, something bigger than me pushing me along, a clean, awe-filled ride.

Hooked, I read The Year of Magical Thinking, The White Album, Play It As It Lays, and Blue Nights. You can imagine my giddiness when I discovered the Joan Didion and Oahu connection―Oahu, where I live now, approximately twenty-three miles from my literary obsession’s stomping grounds. She traveled to the island enough that she contemplating buying a house. She traveled to the island enough that she regretted not buying a house. In Waikiki, every time I glimpsed the tip-top of that grand pink hotel tucked into the gaggle of shoreline buildings, I promised myself that I would visit.

I have been lucky to have met writers who are obsessed with place, to keep finding writers who are obsessed with place because I have this obsession, and I don’t see an end to it. Mark Twain understands:

No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ears; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud rack; I can feel the spirit of its woodland solitudes, I can hear the splash of its brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.

Please return for the follow-up post, “Jane Searches for Joan Didion.”