21 September 2014

An Open Letter to Diana Gabaldon

This is my 100th blog post (and my first in about two years), so it seems fitting that it covers a topic about which I am most passionate. How to best convey my emotions on a topic that is so dear to my heart? As that Mad Hatter said, "Start at the beginning, and when you come to the end, stop."

In the late Spring of 2005, I was procrastinating. One of my best skills, carefully honed throughout my entire college career. Finals - and graduation - were about a week away, and there was not much for me to do (other than pack my apartment, study for finals, finish my theses, and get my life into something resembling order). As now, one of my most efficient ways to procrastinate is to wander the bookstore, call a fellow reader and ask for a recommendation. I called my mom.

Me: I need something that is easy to read, that won't take too much time. I've got finals.
Mom: Read Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.
Me (arriving in the "G" section): Mom, this book is over 800 pages. Were you listening to my criteria?
Mom: Trust me.
Me: Fiiiiiiiiine.

I don't remember much about French, other than being trés fatiguée at my final. I was up every night devouring Outlander. I could have lived on nothing but the rich descriptive language, the carefully cultivated historical research, the piquant characters, and the obviously mouthwatering relationship between the protagonists, Claire Beauchamp and Jamie Fraser.

When I returned to my parents' home to spend the summer before starting graduate school, I completed Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, and The Fiery Cross in about a week each. I didn't have anything pressing to do (other than find somewhere to live 2,000 miles away, get prepared for the rigors of academic life and worry about my student loans), so I contented myself to while away the days laying in the backyard with a book in my hand.

Then, of course, graduate school in Wisconsin. All books, all the time. Especially in winter. I purchased - and read immediately - A Breath of Snow and Ashes when it was released, and I continued to offer up Outlander to anyone who asked for a great book recommendation. In the Fall of 2009, my husband moved back to California a month before my final semester of coursework was completed, taking all of our belongings back across the country. I was to follow in December, keeping only the most necessary items with me until my departure. Clothes, coats, my laptop and, of course, An Echo in the Bone. I really felt the need to have the large, hardcover tome with me for the remainder of my time in Madison. I said it was because I was only "halfway done" and I wasn't about to wait a month to finish the book (even though I did have to wait until my teaching and student-ing was completed to open it back up). I think, however, that it was reassuring to have it as a keystone to important moments in my life, most of which involve moving through space (and not time). Of course, reading in the backyard isn't the same in a blizzard. But still.

In 2011, now back in Orange County for the first time (really) in basically a decade, I saw that Diana Gabaldon Herself was touring for The Exile (the graphic novel of Jamie's experiences) and she was visiting Vroman's. A mere hour from my home (with no traffic). My in-laws live halfway between myself and Pasadena (for to watch my 8-month-old). My mom works halfway between my home and my in-laws' home (for to accompany me).  Yes, we left early so that we wouldn't hit too much traffic. Yes, we hit no traffic (amazingly) and were there like 3 hours early. No, I didn't mind. I was in one of my favorite places, an amazing bookstore, and I was about to meet one of my favorite people. Yes, there were a lot of people there. Yes, I met her. And, while I had all these things I wanted to tell her, I simply said, "I love your books." I totally choked. She was gracious and wonderful, and I'm sure she doesn't remember me.

Lest you think I'm completely obsessed with the whole Outlander universe, I will say that I did not go to Comic-Con to see her or the cast of the show, and I did not get to see her when she visited Vroman's again for Written in My Own Heart's Blood (I couldn't get tickets to either event, or find anyone to watch my 3-year-old and my 1-year-old). But. I had been looking forward to the book for ages, and I bought it the day it was released. A few weeks later, I was in Pasadena and went to Vroman's, found a signed copy of the new book and obviously bought it. Because, of course I did. So now I have two copies.

I had been really looking forward to the show since the moment I heard it was happening; after reading MOBY (as Diana Gabaldon calls it), I said to myself, "Self, you should really re-read the first book before the show starts, just as a refresher." Two weeks before the show started I decided to read Outlander (again), and I finally convinced one of my kindred-book-spirits to start it for the first time. This time, I finished the book in about three days (thanks to my teething daughter "keeping me up all night"), and I thought, "Okay. I'll just read Dragonfly in Amber again." And then the same thing happened with all the rest, right up through MOBY, which I read for the second time. (I feel like I should acknowledge that, while I do re-read books for my studies, I've never been one to re-read too many books, so re-reading a book less than two months after reading it the first time was definitely out of character for me). Loren, my kindred-book-spirit, is in the middle of The Fiery Cross. You're welcome.

One of the things I really enjoyed about reading the novels again was a serious appreciation for all of the intersections of the different storylines that can get jumbled across eight years of reading, and an unwavering sense of astonishment at the amount of painstaking work that goes into making everything so bloody authentic.

I've loved watching the books come to life on the show, as have many of my friends (and a few people I got hooked on the books just before it started). The show feels very honest to the books, both in content and in spirit, which isn't something that always happens. One of the aspects of the show that I really appreciate is how dirty people are. Is that weird? I know they're all traipsing through the Scottish Highlands and I appreciate that they look it. It's one of those weird things I really remember about reading the books. Everything didn't constantly seem shiny and clean.

So, I finished the books. Again. And then, I went to pick up the next book on my never-ending pile of books, and I just felt like I wasn't quite ready to let Claire and Jamie - and Brianna and Roger, and Ian and the rest of them - go. Because these books took time to read, and I got so invested in all of them, and I know it takes time to write these books and the next one isn't for a few years. I would never want the books to come out faster and lose any of their magic. And then I realized (sort of) that part of the reason that I didn't want to pick up the next book is because I never really put it out there what I wanted to say to Diana Gabaldon when I met her in 2011. I love your books.