Libraries & Archives

Libraries & Archives

Monday, July 14, 2014

Vacation Reading

Re-posted from Dear Reader, July 9 edition:

Today's guest author, Ellen Sussman, has published four national bestselling novels: "A Wedding in Provence," "The Paradise Guest House," "French Lessons" and "On a Night Like This." All four books have been translated into numerous languages and "French Lessons" has been optioned by Unique Features to be made into a movie. Ellen now teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes out of her home. She has two daughters and lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ellen has worked a variety of jobs including tennis instructor, restaurant manager, and college teacher, but through all the transmutations of her life she has been writing since the age of six, stubbornly, persistently, with great cockiness and wild insecurity, through praise and piles of rejection letters. She has given up her writing career many times, but only for a day or two, and her family has now learned to ignore her new career choices. She is a writer, an almost daily writer, a writer who actually loves to write.

Welcome Ellen Sussman to the book club...

The Joys of Travel
By Ellen Sussman

When I travel, I lose myself a little. I'm no longer tied to my routines ("New York Times" crossword puzzle, dog walk, write for three hours), the comforts of home (my bed!), the people who know me. I'm listening to a new language (Greek last month!), eating strange foods (taramasalata!), absorbing an unfamiliar culture. My eyes seem to open wider as I take in stunning vistas--ancient cities, hillside villages, deserted islands. After a few days in a foreign land I begin to surprise myself. I'm bolder, I'm more adventurous. I set out on a hike and then summit a mountain. I try on a snorkeling mask and become an underworld explorer. I speak to strangers and discover there's so much out there for me to learn.

And when I come home I'm transformed by my journey. Some of the small discoveries fail to stick--no, I really don't like ouzo after all. But this experience of traveling outside of the familiar and deeply inside the unfamiliar profoundly affects me. Sometimes it's just that I understand the world better. But often times, I understand me better. I learn by pushing my own boundaries and trying on a foreign skin.

Reading literature works the same way for me. When I read a novel I dive deeply into a foreign land. I lose myself and begin to feel what it's like to be someone else in the world. When I finish the novel and put it aside, I return to my own skin, but something has shifted inside me. I've been changed by the journey. I've learned something new or found a part of me that was tucked away. By sharing the emotional experience of the characters in the novel, I've opened my heart, expanded my soul.

Maybe it's no surprise that reading and travel are two of my favorite pastimes. They seem so different--one thrusts you into the great big world and the other keeps you comfortably on the couch in your living room. But in the end, both are voyages, transformative voyages. And I'm a traveler in search of brave new worlds.

--Ellen Sussman

Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.

Suzanne Beecher
My blog:

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