AUGUST 18, 2021 FRIENDS AND FICTION
Patti Callahan Henry
Welcome to our Parade.com weekly essay series Novel Advice in partnership with Friends & Fiction, an online community hosted by bestselling authors Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Alice Monroe. Every Wednesday, you’ll get a new life lessons essay from one of the writers, as well as the chance to discuss the themes of it later that night on Facebook Live!
Today, Patti Callahan talks about how reading can turn into the vacation you’re dreaming of. Read why, and be sure to check back each week for a new essay right here on Parade.com.
This summer, I have sailed through wicked storms on my way to Australia; I’ve walked through the shady woods of Cape Cod to swim in a murky pond; and I’ve wandered the mystical and humid marshes of North Carolina. I’ve ice-fished in the winter forests of Poland while fearing for my life, and I’ve watched magic unfold in Boston, Mass.
Seems impossible, I know. But I’ve done all of this and more by traveling in the pages of the novels I’ve read, including The Paper Palace by Miranda Heller Crowley, When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash and The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel.
It is C. S. Lewis who once stated, “We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations.” He went on to say that, “Literature…is a series of windows, even of doors.” I agree and would add that stories are also a time capsule, a plane ride or a ticket to anywhere.
When I was 12, my family moved from a suburb of Philadelphia to Lighthouse Point, Fla., which felt like moving from Earth to Mars as far as my pre-teen self could tell. I was lost and adrift, and nothing made any sense—from the kids who paid me no attention as they already had their friends to the humid heat that pressed down on my shoulders and the rambling school with outdoor hallways. I quickly found sanctuary in the library. It was there that things fell into place again, that the alchemy of story transformed the meaningless to the meaningful.
I realized I didn’t have to stay put in a South Florida middle school, but instead I could wander in the wildness of the Kansas frontier with the Ingalls family or on the island of Neverland. I could romp around the farm in Charlotte’s Web or the forest in Nancy Drew’s mysteries. Reading this way wasn’t so much escape as it was expansion. I could be in two places at the same time. And how magical is that?
There have been times in my life, and I am sure there have been in yours, that I couldn’t travel because I’ve been stuck at home—and not just during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been set in place when I was raising young children, working full-time night shifts as a nurse or when I was struggling with breast cancer treatment. And these are the times I traveled between the covers of books.
We lose our faith in magic as we grow older, don’t we? And yet, what if we could recapture the innocence we felt when we left our own experience behind and grew in both empathy and wisdom by becoming someone else or by going somewhere else?
One of my very earliest memories is of a day in second grade when we had our daily “free time” to read in class. This was my very favorite part of the day. It was a time when I wasn’t worried about the other kids’ reactions to me, or why I couldn’t add the numbers in the long line of figures on our math worksheet. Instead, I was escaping Vienna with the Von Trapp family.
When the teacher called for free time to end, I didn’t hear her. I continued hiking up the Swiss Alps. Finally, she called out my name, and I startled, my attention back to the classroom. I assumed I was in trouble, but instead of calling me out in a negative way, the teacher told the entire class, “Read like Patti.”
I will never forget it. For probably the first time, I was being praised for living in an imaginary world.
Related: Do You Have Your ‘Grandma Name’ Picked Out? Bestselling Author Patti Callahan Reflects on Why She Chose Hers
Maybe you’ve been chided for daydreaming or having your “nose in a book.” Maybe you, too, have found yourself so deeply involved in a story that you forgot “free time” was over. Well, we are the lucky ones because we’ve traveled.
“I’m bored,” our kids say on a long hot summer day. “I want to do something, go somewhere.” They look at their phones and see others having adventures while they’re stuck at home or school. What if we could show them that there are adventures to be had right between the pages of books? That they could travel to other places, be other people?
Then there are the places I have visited in real life because I read about them in a book. Ireland, for instance. Oxford, England. London, England. These are all places I once read about in a story, discovering I had a great longing to visit that external geography that had changed my internal landscape. Is there a place you want to visit but can’t—at least not yet? There isn’t a place in the world you can’t visit in a novel. From the future to the past. It’s all there for the taking by simply opening the cover of your next adventure.
Here are some ideas and a few suggestions from me and the other ladies of Friends and Fiction.
Savannah, Georgia in Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews
The beaches and small towns of North Carolina in Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Mendocino, California in When Stars go Dark by Paula McLain
1800’s London and Australia in The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
The Music Scene in 1970’s California in Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reed
Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Paris, France in The Sweetness of Forgetting by Kristin Harmel
Provence, France in A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (suggested by Mary Kay Andrews)
Nantucket, Massachusetts in many of Elin Hilderbrand’s novels (suggested by Kristin Harmel)
1970’s Michigan in The Clover Girls by Wade Rouse (suggested by Kristy Woodson Harvey)
The Lowcountry of South Carolina and Italy in Beach Music by Pat Conroy (suggested by Managing Director of Friends and Fiction, Meg Walker).
Friends & Fiction is an online community, weekly live web show, and podcast founded and hosted by bestselling authors Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry, and Mary Alice Monroe, who have written more than 90 novels between them and are published in more than 30 languages. Catch them and their incredible author guests live every Wednesday at 7pm ET on the Friends & Fiction Facebook group page or their YouTube Channel. Follow them on Instagram and, for weekly updates, subscribe to their newsletter.
Patti Callahan Henry is the New York Times bestselling, USA Today bestselling, and Globe and Mail bestselling novelist of 15 novels, including Becoming Mrs. Lewis and Surviving Savannah out now and Once Upon a Wardrobe, out October 19th, 2021. A recipient of the Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year, the Christy Book of the Year and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year, Patti is the co-founder and co-host of the popular web series and podcast Friends & Fiction. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and on her website www.patticallahanhenry.com.