Thursday night McFarlin Library held the first McFarlin Library Fellows Dinner of this school year. The night began with a book sale where the guest lecturer, Jane Smiley, had her novels for sale, which could then be signed by the author. The cocktail hour featured engaging conversation and I had the pleasure of meeting Smiley. During our short conversation, she discussed her childhood dream of becoming a jockey, which was later made impossible by her tall height. Following a delightful dinner, the gathered group were treated to a lecture by Smiley, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Her talk, entitled “The Life of a Novelist,” revealed to the audience her process of approaching her novels and provided insights into the mind of an author.
The three main revelations Smiley made were related to the conception of the novel and its existence after it is created by the author. Smiley disclosed that some scenes from her works are inspired by her own experience and draw from her interests. For example, in Some Luck the youngest daughter, Claire, has to go to the eye doctor where she becomes bored and starts making up answers to the questions she is being asked. This scene was directly drawn from Smiley’s childhood when she had to go to the optometrist as a young girl. The author discussed the creation of a novel. She described it as an abstract thing that she pulls into herself and then makes concrete by writing it down. When the reader picks up the book and reads it, the book then becomes more abstract again as it now lives in the mind of the reader. Therefore, the novel is always slightly different for everyone. The one last observation Smiley shared with the audience was that every author has their own theory related to their writing or their book. This theory is written into their books and weaves its way throughout them so that to truly have an understanding of the author’s thoughts one must read many of their works and read them carefully.