Day 21 Meredith Duran – The Wonder of the Ordinary

Romancing The Humdrum

The older I get, the faster the days seem to pass. I’m told that this is a known phenomenon with no single, credible

fool me twice_website_largeexplanation. The theories that do circulate mostly concern the ways in which our lives, as adults, settle into familiar routines that allow our brains to go on a kind of autopilot. We wake up one day and realize an entire month—or year—has passed, and somehow it’s our birthday/summer/the holidays again.

There is something deeply disconcerting about realizing I can’t remember much of what I did last week. Work, grocery store, gym, repeat: my life recedes into a blur. But how does one become mindful of, and grateful for, the ordinary moments that make up everyday life?

Commercials suggest that all it takes is a new car, or a beer, or the right kind of yogurt. Talk-show psychologists urge us to shake it up—to push our comfort zones with a high-octane fad like aerial gymnastics, or to take a trip to a faraway place we’ve never been.

But we know that an appreciation for mundane daily life isn’t sold in stores. And very few of us can afford to risk our necks on aerial silks—much less to live our lives out of a suitcase. (For those who can, I suspect that five-star hotels and first-class flights very quickly become autopilot routines of their own.)

In fact, contentment and appreciation are not skills widely taught in our society. Everywhere I look, I discover messages that urge us to escape the realities of daily life—not celebrate them.

One exception? Romance novels. The very books maligned by critics as “escapist” are, in fact, the books dedicated to capturing the beauty of the universal, the commonplace, the ordinary, the taken-for-granted: love; relationships; camaraderie and connection.

Just think about it! When we pick up a book that lavishes three hundred and fifty pages on the story of two people meeting, coming to know each other, and falling in love, we are celebrating one of the most commonplace—and simultaneously, the most extraordinary—things that happen every day, on every street corner in the world.

By reading and writing romance novels, we are celebrating the extraordinary that always lurks within the ordinary—and thereby, I think, also celebrating the key to making each day count: an appreciation for the everyday wonders that make up the real substance of our lives.

Recommendations:

Rose Lerner and Jeannie Lin – Rose’s stories are set in Regency England; Jeannie’s, in Imperial China. Yet I recommend them in the same breath because both are exquisitely talented writers whose romances consistently prove swoonworthy. Furthermore, if you love a finely polished phrase, a sentence that sings, and an immersive sense of time and place, you would be well advised to seek out both these novelists’ work.


 

Questions for the Author

Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did.

I was the kindergartener who wouldn’t climb on a jungle gym until she saw another kindergartener do it—and demonstrate how to get down, afterward. That innate caution remains with me to this day. I have friends who think my penchant for solo travel is brave—I’ve set off on my own through the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and India. But I promise you, if it felt risky, I wouldn’t do it!

In fact, I’ve found that traveling alone, particularly as a foreigner, becomes an invitation for strangers to show their warmest, friendliest faces to you. My most inspiring stories consist of the kindness I’ve received from people whom I’ll never meet again—the two Barcelonans who, realizing I was lost, walked me a mile out of their way to show me back to my hostel; the Bangladeshi construction workers in Florence who helped me when food poisoning struck at the Duomo; the unknown benefactor in India who, when I was studying abroad there, deduced that I’d spent money I couldn’t afford on a gift for my mother, and smuggled that money back to me by leaving it in my hostel room, in an envelope bearing an image of Ganesha (to denote the contents as a gift and blessing).

People are marvelous. My hope is that telling stories about inspirational people will, in turn, become an inspirational act of my own.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. (How did you decide to get started? Did you always know or was there a specific moment when you knew?)

I honestly cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. You can blame this on E.B. White. My mother read Charlotte’s Web to me at a very impressionable age, and I was severely disappointed with Charlotte’s fate. I decided to correct Mr. White’s error by rewriting the ending.

It was a hard road, of course. First, I had to learn how to handwrite (to say nothing of spelling). But my determination was unwavering. I’m pleased to report I got an EE (“Excellent Effort”) in English on my first report card—exactly the encouragement I’d needed.

I embarked on my first project with the aid of several reams of construction paper and a pack of crayons. In my unauthorized sequel, Charlotte was resurrected, and survived to spin many more webs. Meanwhile, I moved on to pencils, then cursive, and (at the ripe age of ten) a banged-up typewriter.

In short, I’ve been making up stories and committing them to the page since first grade or so.

Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?)

There are so MANY books that changed my life! I feel like that’s the definition of a good book: by broadening your awareness or empathy, it broadens your experience of the world.

I think here, for instance, of Susan Kay’s Legacy — a novel about Elizabeth I, that I happened to pick up as a ninth grader. It’s a wonderful book, and before reading it, I knew almost nothing about Tudor England. By the time I finished the book, I was caught in the grip of a fledgling obsession. Fast-forward to my senior year of high school: I was playing the lute, taking voice lessons, and acting and interning at a Shakespeare camp, all because an interest sparked by a single book had opened up opportunities to which I’d been blind before.

I don’t think there’s a single book in the world bereft of this transformative power. But it’s a little like love: compatibility is key—and so is timing!

Meredith is generously giving away one copy of Fool Me Twice and one copy of That Scandalous Summer to three winners. U.S. readers only, apologies to international friends.


 

Meredith_DuranBio: Meredith Duran grew up enamored of British history. At thirteen years old, she made a list of life goals that included writing romance novels, trying sushi, and going to London to see Holbein’s portrait of Anne Boleyn. All three goals have now become her favorite things to do. When not teaching, researching, or working on her next novel, Meredith can be found in the library, browsing through travelogues written by intrepid Englishwomen of the nineteenth century.

 

 

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