HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I call her my fairy godsister. Every time she’s around and everything she touches turns into something wonderful. She’s an amazing writer, and a brilliant author (she looks at everything I write, thank goodness) and a complete cheerleaders and team leader for writers across the country with her daily Facebook messages of enthusiasm and encouragement. A whole cadre of writers get to work each day with her writing sprints!
She’s a stalwart of Pennwriters, and I cannot even imagine how many books she’s shepherded to publication. Plus, she’s hilarious, outspoken and a great pal.
So now, two things.
First, she’s the brains behind Into the Woods, a new anthology of short fiction, personal essays, original music, and one walking meditation from Mindful Writers who retreat several times a year in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Proceeds from Into the Woods benefit the Children’s Heart Foundation. So keep that in mind! And I’m giving a copy to one lucky commenter.
Commenter about what?
Well, today, Femmes, Ramona’s got a suggestion for PBS. (Just saying.) And she wants to know what you think.
My Great American Read
PBS is hosting a summer project called the Great American Read, an 8-part series discussing favorite novels. A master list of 100 books was revealed in Episode 1.
The project encourages reading so I’m sold, even though a book I’d have included didn’t make the cut: Love Story by Erich Segal.
Love Story? The tear-jerker with the sappy tag line about never having to say you’re sorry? Yes, that one. The novel is a romantic drama in the vein of La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils—two people from very different worlds fall in love and tragedy ensues.
The plot has been adapted into film multiple times: Camille starring Greta Garbo; Moulin Rouge starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor; and Love Story starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal.
When I was in 6th grade at Holy Savior Elementary School, both the film and movie were hugely popular. I “borrowed” my older sister’s copy of the novel and read it in math class because…math. I got caught.
Sister Agatha slipped it out of my math textbook and said, “Come to my office at big recess.”
In her office, Sister Agatha tsked at me for reading a book inappropriate for good girls like me. To prove her point, she pointed at “f---ing Canuck” from a scene in a hockey game. I was horribly embarrassed to be in the same room as an f-bomb and a nun. I was indeed a good girl, and this traumatic moment is why I can’t watch hockey.
To get the book back, I’d have to tell my mother and she’d have to come to Sister Agatha’s office to retrieve it. I suspect Sister Agatha knew that was not going to happen, and it didn’t. Later in the day, my chagrin morphed into curiosity. How did she know that Oliver Barrett IV had cursed out a Canadian?
My developing crime writer mind had found a clue. In the time between math class and big recess, Sister Agatha must have read my copy of Love Story.
The novel is short. It’s a page turner, full of subtext about the class divide, and way more compelling than 6th grade math. I didn’t call out Sister Agatha, but my imagination wouldn’t let it go.
I pictured her in her bare nun cell re-reading my book. I envisioned her wiping her tears with her wimple when Jenny’s leukemia was diagnosed. I imagined her reading it aloud to a cluster of Sisters who said Hail Marys in hopes of a miracle. I considered her moral dilemma when she came to the hockey game scene and made the Sign of the Cross to excuse herself for reading these naughty words.
Love Story might not be great literature, but it stayed on the NYT Bestsellers List for 41 weeks. Why? Because it made readers feel and cry and wish and think. It made me want to write stories so compelling, they could move a nun to confiscate a book and speed read it between recesses. Isn’t that, after all, what a great read should do?
HANK: Oh, of course I remember! (I always get it mixed up with the short story Goodbye, Columbus, ridiculously. But I adore them both.) (It's why so may girls are named Jenny now, don't you think? And that hair-do, and that sappy-sappy quote. Remember?
So Femmes, did you read LOVE STORY back then? Did it stay with you?
And a copy of Into The Woods to one lucky commenter. Of course, that should not stop you from ordering a copy or two--great words for a great cause.
Ramona DeFelice Long is an author, editor, and online writing instructor who grew up in the
South but somehow ended up in Delaware. Her short fiction and personal essays have appeared innumerous literary and regional journals, and she’s been the recipient of multiple artist grants and fellowships. She maintains a literary website .
Into the Woods is the title and theme of an anthology of short fiction, personal essays, original music, and one walking meditation from Mindful Writers who retreat several times a year in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Proceeds from Into the Woodsbenefit the Children’s Heart Foundation.