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There is nothing I like more than a family saga. Perhaps I should clarify, a family saga laid out in a book, not my own family saga. When I want to escape my own familial drama I dive into a book about some fictional familial drama. Somehow it helps. Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain will be at the MLK Library tonight reading from his new book A Sudden Light. We asked Garth which novels he disappeared into while writing this one.

The Wild Trees by Richard Preston

This is a riveting book that follows the first researchers who explored the canopies of redwood trees in California and discovered the amazing structure and life of these magnificent trees.  The writing is superb and engrossing.  And the method of non-invasive climbing—using cross-bows, climbing ropes, and ascenders—is described so well, it inspired me to learn to climb these trees myself, which really helped me understand three of my characters:  Ben, Harry, and Trevor.  A book so good, it moves you to action!

John Muir:  Nature Writings by John Muir

We’ve all heard of him, but have you actually read him?  John Muir writes some of the most beautiful passages ever written about nature, with a spiritual tone and a sense of utter awe.  His essay, A Wind-storm in the Forests, served as a major inspiration to me in writing A Sudden Light.  “My peace I give unto you.”

Daisy Miller by Henry James

A wonderful, brief novel about a young woman who struggles against the conventions and expectations of high society, and ultimately finds her demise because of her independent nature.  This is the book (in its original edition) that Aunt Serena gives to Trevor for his 14th birthday in A Sudden Light.  Trevor does not read the novella in the course of my story, but if he did pick up the book sometime after my novel is finished, he no doubt would see the prescient nature of Serena’s gift.

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

Kesey’s portrait of the logging Stamper family is a brilliant reflection of timber in the Northwest.  Gritty, damp, angry, drunk, passionate.  It’s an absolutely terrific book, and while the Stamper clan is the antithesis of the Riddell Family—loggers versus timber barons—Ken Kesey taught me much about how to bring the forests of the Northwest to life in a way that reveals their tenacious and sometimes harsh nature, as well as their incredible beauty.

Garth Stein is doing a reading from his book A Sudden Light at the MLK Library tonight at 7pm. He will be in conversation with Bethanne Patrick, Washingtonian Magazine books editor.