The Stone Diaries sat next to the cash register on the counter of the local women’s bookstore long before there was a buzz surrounding it in the mainstream press. I loved that little off-sized hardcover and I read it twice through, once and then, immediately, again. She was one of the first authors to make my MRE (Must Read Everything) list and is one of few whose works I have read (in many cases) repeatedly. Which might explain why I feel I need to have more than single copies of so many of them. (That and the whole compulsive book-collecting streak.)
As a reader I have found great pleasure and value in her works, but as a writer they have been integrally important. I keep a notebook of quotes that I re-read when a rejection particularly niggles and this quote from Carol Shields is at the top of the page: “I don’t think in terms of plot very much, very little in fact, but I think that the arc of the human life is a plot and it is enough of a plot, for me.” It’s true for me too, but it helps to re-read it in her words when I have had one too many of the “nothing happens” rejection letters.
And it seems that I am not the only one who has to remind herself of truths that once seemed clear. In her essay “About Writing”, Carol Shields writes: “Nevertheless, over a lifetime I have convinced myself – on good days, at least – that we all possess a domestic space, and that it is mainly within this domestic arc that we express the greater part of our consciousness. My faith in this idea comes and goes, rallies and subsides, but I want, above all else, to be allowed to stare at the question seriously.”