Reading About What You Don’t Know


Photo credit: quimby / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Seeing as to how this is NaNoWriMo month, I was thinking about how I approach my stories and how they are sometimes highly inspired by the lyrics of songs I listen to as I’m writing.

…Which got me thinking about how I used to be an avid reader of E. Lynn Harris, who sometimes used song titles/lyrics in his novels as chapter titles. I liked that creative spin.

…Which, like a domino effect, got me thinking back to how I used to look forward to the paperback versions of his novels (I couldn’t afford to splurge on the hardcover price) to see what new craziness Raymond, Basil and Yancey had gotten into.

…Which got me thinking about how his books got me to read about things I didn’t know much about and from the perspective of an author who did.

As you can see, there was a lot of thinking going on…

When I first read Just As I Am, I had no choice but to go back to the beginning of his series to Invisible Life and follow through until the last novel he penned before his untimely death in 2009. I didn’t even know it until writing this post but according to his Wikipedia profile, E. Lynn Harris “authored ten consecutive books that reached The New York Times Best Seller list, making him among the most successful African-American or gay authors of his era”.

What was amazing is that his biggest fans were straight Black women like me. Back then, his books were staples in American bookstores, book clubs and were talked about in the Black hair salons like they were the latest installment of an ongoing soap opera, which in a way, they were.

The stories of love, sex, deception and secrets were goooood and the “who-loves-who” triangles were irrelevant when it came to the character’s gender. Interesting characters, flowing dialogue and juicy enough to make you pay attention within the first few pages of each novel, even if you hadn’t read the other ones.

E. Lynn Harris basically invented a “new” book genre that depicted affluent Black gay men living double lives and the world of his characters often revolved around professional football and/or the entertainment business. In my opinion, he had a gift for writing dialogue and describing scenes so well that it made you feel like a fly on the wall. It was clear that he was writing from his own knowledge and that he was close enough to the worlds he depicted extremely well.

As I said in Writing About What You Know, when you write about what you know, you’ll get me to read about what I don’t know. Each and every time.

The jokes on me: Somewhere in the late 1990’s, a few of my aunts came to visit and knowing that I had a large collection of Black authored novels, they asked to borrow something to read during their stay. Past experience had taught me that whatever novel I would lend would probably be leaving the safety of my bookshelf and find itself on a plane overseas. Being a former bookworm, I used to have a BIG problem with lending out my books. It would hurt my heart to carefully read and “baby” my books, only to lend them out and have them returned with crushed spines, tattered pages and folded corners. Thinking that I was being oh-so-smart, I offered them each one of my Harris books, assuming that the content would not be their cup of tea, probably leading them to abandoned the books after the first few chapters (and my books would stay at home with me). Needless to say, I was totally wrong. Not only did those books leave the country, first my aunts traded books with each other and then gave both books to a third aunt to read. Three years later, my books finally found their way home to me…

©2015 Marquessa Matthews. All Rights Reserved.

12 thoughts on “Reading About What You Don’t Know

  1. The best thing is your books found their way home to you.
    Lending books to receive them in bad condition, just irritates.
    In the first place you have to lend them with a small notion that they shall not come back to you.
    It was nice to know you have read helluva lot of books.


  2. Marquessa, you made me smile. Love E Lynn Harris. Got introduced to him some years before his passing and after reading one from the library, I decided that I should just buy them. Have quite a few in hardcover (when I truly enjoy an author’s work – they get hardcover status). Like you, I don’t usually share my books so I’m thankful for audio books and e readers where I can loan them out 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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