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Leaving an impression

By Annie Waddoups

I am so impressionable, if you touched me I would probably retain your fingerprint on my skin.

I’m kidding, but barely. What I read, watch, listen to, & see really colors how I see the world. (This is probably true of everyone but I might have it to such a degree that the Victorians would perhaps have a term for it, something like weak minded) My kids experience this, too, since there are times when I think their friends’ voices, words, and inflections spookily emerge from their mouths. I try not to call them on it too often because, really, I understand the pull.

This tendency shows up particularly when I read. Just a few examples:

~ When I read The Girl with a Pearl Earring, I had the overwhelming need to pay attention to small details of my daily life. To chop vegetables into uniform pieces and appreciate their color, as she does in the book. To make laundry doing a meditation, a daily sacrament. I didn’t really reach such heights of existentialism but I did pay more attention to the beauty of every day details.

~ Another book I read for a book group years ago took place in Egypt and the main character, a woman, meticulously went through a face moisturizing routine every night. If I delay wrinkles at all, it will be thanks to that book; I’ve been very well moisturized ever since. Interestingly, I can’t remember anything else about the book but her bedtime routine made a lasting impressions. (Let’s all hope corporations don’t start doing product placements in novels; they would be far more effective at influencing me than movie and television placements.)

~ I love a good mystery or spy novel but I have to intersperse them with other things. Otherwise I start looking at the world as a scary, suspicious place. I question motives, glance in my rear view mirror suspiciously, and feel a general sense of doom.

~ I loved all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books as I was growing up, especially the Austin family series. When I think about the Austins–the warm raucous kitchen, loving relationships, interesting dinner conversation–I can still conjure up the exact feeling I hope I create here in my home.

~ Of course when I was younger, I became a spy with Harriet, started planning running away to a museum to find the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, wanted braided hair like Laura Ingalls, the list goes on.

As someone who writes, this can be boggling. What is my voice? I read so many terrific books and blogs that it’s inevitable that I pick up others’ mood and tone. Sometimes I sound kind of funny one day (well, I try! I said kind of), sincere the next, folksy another day, formally didactic the Friday after that.  The effect is expressive schizophrenia, I’m afraid. Hopefully you don’t get whiplash.

So…what has left its impression on you? Have any books seeped into your life?
And how do you find your voice?

About Annie Waddoups

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16 thoughts on “Leaving an impression”

  1. I loved "Harriet the Spy" so much as a kid I literally spent years sneaking around the house spying on people. I read the book over and over. I always know a book is good, and I read a LOT of books, if I think of it weeks later. Instead of immediately forgetting it.

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  2. i dreamed about being anne for years after i had read the entire anne of green gables series. i wished for red hair, to be smart like anne, to call a delicious cake "plummy", even to call friends "chums". i still like to read those books once in a while….

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  3. I read the Little House series and the Chronicles of Narnia over and over when I was a child. Now that I've read them to my own children, it's been like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

    I'm reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader to one of my children right now so we can go see the movie. It was my favorite of that series.

    Little Town on the Prairie is my favorite of that series. Something about the excitement and adventure of settling the west caught the attention of my 9 year old heart and hasn't left me.

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  4. Annie, thanks for sharing the impressions books have made on you.

    The book I gave my granddaughter is Heidi. This was to get even with her mother. I read Heidi over and over to my oldest daughter when she was 6. Her 1st grade teacher called me in for a conference and implied that Lolly was an abused child because she kept repeating, "I just can't bear it" at school.

    I recognized the line from Heidi, but had a hard time convincing her teacher.

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  5. One of my favorite things now is to see how books make impressions on my children. It's not so noticeable with my oldest, but my middle son is always using words he learned in books and writing stories that are influenced by them. I did the same when I was his age. And books still make an impression on me.

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  6. It sounds to me, Annie, like you live very richly. You absorb details and images and put yourselves into lives and places you could never go in real life (often because they don't exist).

    If that isn't the exact way a writer should be, I don't know what is.

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  7. Perhaps "weak minded" is the wrong term. It's not as if you're absorbing things totally contrary to your morals or beliefs. Part of comprehension is an actual absorbtion of something from what's being read.

    Every book has changed my life.

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  8. love this article. i feel very much the same.
    books and movies affect (effect?) me very much. they stay with me for days so i have to be VERY careful with what i watch or read…

    as far as impressionable books, i'm with paula on the little house on the prairie. the christmas scene is forever burned into my mind – with the snow higher than the house and then opening all their presents… down to the detail of the orange and the peppermint sticks.

    the other series i love reading is emily of new moon. i love that era! and i love her details and writing style.

    thanks for sharing!

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  9. Your writer's voice is a compilation of all these things as they've run through your filter. I think it is a gift to be able to "switch voices". It allows you to create on multiple levels and keep your writing fresh, don't you think? If I had to guess, I would imagine that you are a deep thinker and can produce some profound writing. That's what happens to those of us who are sensitive and "impressionable." Not that you have to be that way to produce profound pieces of writing. I just think it is an added tool in your tool box.

    I have to say that ever since I read Girl With A Pearl Earring, I often find myself looking at the clouds during sunset and trying to pick out the different colors in them. 😉

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  10. Annie – I find your thoughts fascinating. I too am impressionable – maybe we all are – more than we care to believe. I read certain works and for a brief time think… maybe I can write like that. Later, I look back at pieces I've written (and often to my dismay) I'm still the same voice I've always been. I might have a new word or phrase to pop in that is pure improved me, but I can't quite escape the same old me-ness, or blast into a new hemisphere of improved writing. I can tell everything I read slowly seeps into what I write, but not as readily as I would like! Thanks for your honest post. We share two common loves – Madeleine L'Engle. She is my heart of the home heroine too. And Laura Ingalls. It was the first series I ever read. Can't wait for my girls to be old enough to pick them up.

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  11. I read some story in high school where the beautiful mother retreated to her room for an hour before dinner every night to rest, brush her hair one hundred strokes and compose herself. It is the only part of the story I remember. I planned that when I had children I would do the same. It really hasn't worked out.

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  12. I loved the Emily of New Moon books as a young girl. I read them again after I was married and realized that from them, I had absorbed the idea that if you like a boy, you can't let him know. I always thought those kinds of feelings were meant to be hidden. I'm much more direct now.

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  13. I wanted to be Harriet the Spy as Well. I had my notebook and planned out my spy route. I also wanted to be Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew.
    I'm not a writer, so I didn't know I even had a voice to find. I'm just a reader who changes moods with whatever book that I am engrossed in. I do have to be careful with the books I choose.
    I love reading Segullah though because your (as in all of you Segullah writers) words move me and make me reflect. I wish I had the ability to express myself like the rest of you.
    Keep them coming!

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  14. I read the cheesy 40's romance "Forever Amber" when I was 14 and it made SUCH an impression on me. The main character, Amber, was forever throwing herself at men who would love her and leave her. But then they'd marry these women who were really upright and virginal (like I said, this is an old book.) From then on I swore not to be sleazy and pathetic. Playing hard to get seemed to be a much better strategy for getting a man.

    You know, I think it really worked out for me. I ended up having several really nice boyfriends (and eventually a husband) that treated me like gold. There are a lot of girls today that would benefit from a little self-respect.

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  15. I would reframe your experience as being open and imaginative. That's a good thing!

    I seem to be more affected by books mood-wise than I am in action-oriented ways. For example, reading Rosamune Pilcher makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen make me feel witty and feisty.

    I do agree that books can change us, but a lot of times I think they just help us get in touch with part or parts of ourselves that respond to the author's voice and content.

    As for my own "voice," it depends almost entirely upon my mood. I have several of them, I believe, though a unifying note probably does run through each one. I'm not sure what that note is, but I do know that my friends and family tell me then can hear me speaking when they read what I've written. So, I guess I've got one! (Whether it's enjoyable to listen to is another question!)

    😉

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