Author Picks: 6 Literary Quotes That Stuck with Me

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Ash Davidson was born in Arcata, California, and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been supported by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and MacDowell. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.

I read about 300 books in the 10 years I spent writing my first novel, Damnation Spring. Teaching myself to write a novel changed the way that I read. Sure, I still read to find out what happens next, and how it ends. I’m still savoring a beautifully constructed sentence and struck by observations that touch me, that resonate in the world of the novel and cross over into my own.

The difference is that now when I pick up a novel, I also open a drawer in my brain that I’m filling with index cards. I note how the beast is sewn together, and the narrative techniques—things I want to learn to do. Here are a few quotes tucked away in that brain drawer.

Memory Wall
by Anthony Doerr

“You bury your childhood here and there. It waits for you, all your life, to come back and dig it up.”

Anthony Doerr may be best known for his beloved novel ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, but his earlier collection, MEMORY WALL, thrilled and terrified me, for all the ways it speaks to how we build memory, and how we lose it. I grew up listening to my parents’ stories of chemical sprays and logging in the redwood forest, and, through their memories, loving a place I barely remembered. Those stories were always there, waiting for me to come back and dig them up, and I returned to this Doerr quote in moments of doubt.

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Memory Wall
Anthony Doerr

In the wise and beautiful second collection from the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of All the Light We Cannot See, "Doerr writes about the big questions, the imponderables, the major metaphysical dreads, and he does it fearlessly" (The New York Times Book Review).

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The Round House
by Louise Erdrich

“Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two rigid, healthy leaves. Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks.”

Erdrich is a linguistic virtuoso, and while I gravitate to her books for her intricate plots, the brilliant way she braids the personal and the political, and her complicated, often flawed, characters, her language itself is full of revelations. I was struggling to describe the chinks in a cabin wall when I ran across these opening lines and the “knife cracks” in the brown shingles of Joe Coutts’s boyhood home. With precision and economy, Erdrich skips straight over “cracks just large enough to slide a knife through” to “knife cracks” and slyly evokes an act of violence, a harbinger of how Erdrich’s gorgeous novel about an ugly crime will cut you to the bone.

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The Round House
Louise Erdrich

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
by Ayana Mathis

“The journey had lifted her out of the plainness of her life. In Georgia she was one of many, undifferentiated from others, even in her own mind, but on the train to Philadelphia she became acutely aware of what was inviolate in her. She felt herself a single red flower in a field of green grass.”

Ayana Mathis’s novel of the Great Migration will bind you to its matriarch, Hattie Shepherd, a young mother who desperately fills a room with steam in an attempt to save her twin babies. But with all the tragedies, triumphs, and heartaches in this book, it also changed my understanding of history, its luminous characters lighting a path through an era I knew little about.

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Ayana Mathis

This debut of extraordinary distinction tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family. Beautiful, devastating, and blazing with life, this novel is a searing portrait of surviving in the face of insurmountable adversity.

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Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward

“What’s done in the dark always comes to the light.”

Jesmyn Ward’s novel of the days leading up to and the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is one of my all-time favorites. It invites you into the world of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and into the intimate lives of teenage Esch and her brother Skeetah, whose big-hearted love for his dog, China, mirrors the love Esch yearns for. SALVAGE THE BONES has a perfect ending, and I think about it at least once a week.

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Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward

Set in the 12 days leading up to Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in Mississippi, a family of motherless children do everything they can to protect and care for each other. SALVAGE THE BONES is a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty.

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Perma Red
by Debra Magpie Earling

“When Louise White Elk was nine, Baptiste Yellow Knife blew a fine powder in her face and told her she would disappear.”

Set on the Flathead Indian Reservation in the 1940s, PERMA RED chronicles the complicated histories and power dynamics of rural life in a small town and the currents of danger that run underneath, especially for a young woman. Earling is a master of speeding time up and slowing it down—including one of the most beautifully written car crashes I’ve ever read. This novel captures what it feels like to be trapped by one’s circumstances and the courage it takes to want more.

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Perma Red
Debra Magpie Earling

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The Lobster Kings
by Alexi Zentner

“We’re named the Kings, and we’re the closest thing to royalty on Loosewood Island.”

Alexi Zentner had me at hello with this first line of THE LOBSTER KINGS. Loosely based on King Lear (the heir to the family lobstering dynasty is named “Cordelia”), Zentner does with the lobstering what I wanted to do for redwood logging: he introduces you to a family, a place, and an industry that is so vivid and insular that suddenly you’re out on boat, hauling up traplines. Zentner also writes his female protagonist so confidently that it made me think, hey, if he can do that, maybe I can write a 53-year-old logger.

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The Lobster Kings
Alexi Zentner

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Author Picks: 6 Literary Quotes That Stuck with Me

By Ash Davidson | November 29, 2021

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Damnation Spring
by Ash Davidson

DAMNATION SPRING is out now!

Colleen and Rich Gundersen are raising their young son, Chub, on the rugged California coast. It’s 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn’t what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened. Colleen is an amateur midwife. Rich is a tree-topper. It’s a dangerous job that requires him to scale trees hundreds of feet tall—a job that both his father and grandfather died doing. Colleen and Rich want a better life for their son—and they take steps to assure their future. Rich secretly spends their savings on a swath of ancient redwoods. But when Colleen, grieving the loss of a recent pregnancy and desperate to have a second child, challenges the logging company’s use of the herbicides she believes are responsible for the many miscarriages in the community, Colleen and Rich find themselves on opposite sides of a budding conflict. As tensions in the town rise, they threaten the very thing the Gundersens are trying to protect: their family.

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Damnation Spring
Ash Davidson

An epic, immersive debut, Damnation Spring is the deeply human story of a Pacific Northwest logging town wrenched in two by a mystery that threatens to derail its way of life.

For generations, Rich Gundersen’s family has chopped a livelihood out of the redwood forest along California’s rugged coast. Now Rich and his wife, Colleen, are raising their own young son near Damnation Grove, a swath of ancient redwoods on which Rich’s employer, Sanderson Timber Co., plans to make a killing. In 1977, with most of the forest cleared or protected, a grove like Damnation—and beyond it 24-7 Ridge—is a logger’s dream.

It’s dangerous work. Rich has already lived decades longer than his father, killed on the job. Rich wants better for his son, Chub, so when the opportunity arises to buy 24-7 Ridge—costing them all the savings they’ve squirreled away for their growing family—he grabs it, unbeknownst to Colleen. Because the reality is their family isn’t growing; Colleen has lost several pregnancies. And she isn’t alone. As a midwife, Colleen has seen it with her own eyes.

For decades, the herbicides the logging company uses were considered harmless. But Colleen is no longer so sure. What if these miscarriages aren’t isolated strokes of bad luck? As mudslides take out clear-cut hillsides and salmon vanish from creeks, her search for answers threatens to unravel not just Rich’s plans for the 24-7, but their marriage too, dividing a town that lives and dies on timber along the way.

Told from the perspectives of Rich, Colleen, and Chub, in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, this intimate, compassionate portrait of a community clinging to a vanishing way of life amid the perils of environmental degradation makes Damnation Spring an essential novel for our time.

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Photo credit: Scribner Books

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