My literary life: fiction vs reality – Laurel Osterkamp

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By Laurel Osterkamp

In my newly released novel, Just Like the Bronte Sisters, Skylar (the main character) has extremely precocious reading habits. By the age of twelve she’s already devoured a lot classic novels. I also have always loved reading, in fact, some of my favorite childhood memories are about trips to the library, or the grocery bags full of paperbacks my mom would buy me from the used bookstore. (She could fill an entire bag with books for just five dollars!) However, even though I grew up to become a high school English teacher/writer, I’ve never been as literary as my fictional character, Skylar, is. For example…♥

1. Skylar loves classic literature, especially gothic romance by the Brontes. My tastes are more eclectic.

#Okay – “eclectic” is a nice way of putting it. Some of those paperbacks I got from the used book store? They were Judith Krantz novels (I was teenager by then, and my mom was always pretty liberal about what she allowed me to read.) There was other, more literary fare, but honestly, I was just never as intellectual as Skylar. I did read some “literature” by choice, like Animal Farm, The Stranger, and lots of plays from a big book of classic drama that I got one year for Christmas. But mostly, I read popular fiction.

Of course, there’s merit to all sorts of reading, no matter what your tastes are. But writing styles have changed over the years, and so have our attention spans. Let’s face it; classic literature is harder to read than most modern, mainstream fiction is. A lot of the words are unfamiliar, the sentences are long and often flowery, and back when the Brontes wrote their novels, there wasn’t this insane expectation for authors to grab their reader’s attention from the very first line. Back then, books took longer to get into, and readers were willing to plod along for a little while, slowly getting into a novel.

So, I admit that even now, when I’m reading for fun, I like a novel that’s easy to get into. This was true when I was Skylar’s age and it’s still true now. That said, this year I’m teaching Advanced Placement Literature, so it’s my job to read and teach classic novels. Right now, we’re just finishing Lord of the Flies, which I first read for school when I was in eighth grade. I loved the symbolism; the idea that Piggy’s glasses could have extra significance just blew my mind. Next, we’ll be reading Pride and Prejudice. I first read that several years ago for a book club, and I loved the witty diction and how universal some of the themes are, even today.

Oh, and one classic author I DID read for fun when I was a teenager was Daphne Du Maurier. Of course, she’s way more modern than Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or Emily Bronte. I’d go so far as to compare her to Gillian Flynn; like maybe Gillian Flynn’s writing exists because Daphne Du Maurier’s writing came first. But that assertation could be a whole blog post on its own.

2. Skylar aims to major in literature at an Ivy League school. I majored in theater at UMD.

That’s University of Minnesota-Duluth, which was a great school for me, and I have no regrets. Most of the classic literary reading I did was in the forms of plays; Ibsen was and is still my favorite. But let’s face it; I was never Ivy League material. Good thing I’m a writer, and I know how to make my characters smarter than me. I can live vicariously through them. Speaking of writing…

3. Skylar is writing her own novel. I’ve written ten novels or novellas myself.

This is the one area where I’m ahead of the character I created. Take that, Skylar! But she is only nineteen when she writes her first book, way younger than I was when I started, so I can’t really gloat. Also, our genres are different. Just Like the Bronte Sisters is as much of a gothic romance as I’m ever going to write. But Skylar goes full-on, bodice ripper, walking along the moors, angsty moodiness. Good for her. There’s always a market for that sort of thing.

I suppose there’s also always a market for novels that are about novels, because book-lovers can never get enough of literary allusions. Skylar and Just Like the Bronte Sisters was a nod to my love of reading, a celebration that books exist. Thank goodness they do! That’s one other thing Skylar and I have in common; neither of us could live without books.

Laurel Osterkamp teaches English and Creative Writing in Minneapolis, where she tries to stay warm, hang out with her husband and two chatty children, and find the time to write.

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