Reading Matters

Pinckney: ‘Some books are like a body blow’

Diana Pinckney
Diana Pinckney

Childhood stories led to a lifetime love of reading. "Rule, Britannia" ruled. I can’t rumble about Pooh’s poetry without tumbling with Alice into Wonderland and flying with Peter. But more enchanting was The Little Lame Prince by a Miss Mulock. Included in that book is another title, The Adventures of a Brownie, by Dinah Maria Mulock (Mrs. Craig). It seems Miss Mulock married between writing books. The prince is carried on a pillow, rides a magic carpet, and swirls with royalty, witches’ curses and an ancient Godmother. The Brownie is wonderfully naughty. My delight in the mischievous and mystical doings of fairies, pixies and leprechauns continues.

Ah, romance. Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities swept me into the world of Europe, revolution, star-crossed lovers, mistaken identities and sacrifice. The drama of it all, the way Dickens pulls you into the characters and their world. I read this in adolescence many times. It opened the door to history and the realization that it’s all about people and characters, with a few dates thrown it. When I re-read this book a few years ago, I have to say, "It was the best of times, and the worst of times."

Elizabeth The Great, by Elizabeth Jenkins introduced me not only to the amazing Queen Elizabeth I, of those fabulous, notorious Tudors, but to the rich literature of biographies. I consumed Nancy Milford’s Zelda and 20 years later her Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. And endless tales of others, especially the Russian Greats. But Elizabeth Rex still calls. Jenkins’ book sent me reading more books about the Queen, by such authors as Jane Dunn and Allison Weir. Jenkins’ work is still the "go to" book in my search to explore the mystery of that famous Queen and fascinating woman.

William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice is indelibly imprinted on my psyche. The power of Sophie’s story, the horror of the Holocaust, the beauty of the writing, all moved me beyond anything I could imagine. When I came to the description of Sophie making her choice, I put the book down on the bed and wept. I had young children and Styron’s book hit me like a body blow. A long time before I could open the book again. I recently read Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men and had a similar experience of physical pain. I put the book away before I could read further about a different type of genocide.

Cradle of Freedom, Alabama and the Movement That Changed America, by Frye Gaillard is a book of tremendous power, bringing the reader completely into an amazing era. His story is told by the individuals who risked their lives and lost their lives to make this revolution. Some of these are known martyrs and heroes. The book is also peopled with countless unknowns. Real folks with real stories of brave acts, doing that which they never knew they could do. Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King are made alive with their fears and their humanity. Gaillard’s description of crossing the bridge at Selma would bring anyone who reads it to their knees. I don’t need a movie to show me what it was like. This book does and I’m grateful for it.

Charlotte’s DIANA PINCKNEY is a prize-winning poet whose most recent collection is The Beast and the Innocent (Future Cycle Press).