The Joy of Text: How Diana Gabaldon Changed My Life

I’m not a bookworm.  I did not spend childhood with my nose buried in the pages of Harry Potter or the Magic Treehouse series or Wimpy Kid.  Sure, plenty of great books existed in the dark ages of my youth.  I retain nostalgic attachment to Lloyd Alexander’s assistant pig-keeper, Taran, and I adored Andrew Henry’s Meadow.

In high school, I read the required Invisible Man, David Copperfield, and Pride and Prejudice.  I’m sure I’ll alienate half of you by admitting that I really couldn’t stand Jane Austen.  Mr. Darcy’s approach to romance left me colder than January in Minnesota and without the occasional blinding sun.  The dude surely meets DSM criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  (I’m just not buying that he only appears that way because he was written from Miss Bennet’s perspective.)

Honestly, I can’t recall reading anything outside of school all through my teen years.  At least not books.  I read plenty of music.  Schumann and Rachmaninoff and Dello Joio and Mozart and Debussy and Mussorgsky and Bach and Brahms.  If practicing the piano is reading, I read a lot.

Oberlin brought an endless syllabus of reading.  I consumed all of it, every last paragraph, diligently outlining my notes for later reference.  I earned the worst grade of my college career in the intro English course entitled Reading Fiction.  Italo Calvino very nearly killed me.  Why would I spend any free moment inside someone else’s imagination when I could go dancing, see a movie, or yak with my roommate?

In June of 1991, just after I graduated, Diana Gabaldon published her “practice novel”, Outlander.  My friend Jess suggested that I might like it.  I did.  Over the next fifteen years, the Outlander series wove through my life: pre-med classes, medical school, residency, the beginnings of my practice as a family physician, marriage, and the birth of my son.

Back when our love was fresh, when we were consolidating our holdings, Ace innocently asked if we could get rid of my pile of “romance novels”.  I pitched a gigantic fit.  You don’t understand, I said.  These books, these physical tattered pages, reminded me how to read for pleasure alone.  As a compromise, we tucked the massive, mostly hardcover tomes (Gabaldon appears incapable of writing a short book) behind the first row on the bookcase.  “Because, really.  Are you going to be reading them over and over?” Ace asked.

Why yes, in fact.  I first started the series when I was in my twenties, just contemplating a medical career, much like protagonist Claire, a combat nurse.  A couple books down the road and Claire attends medical school.  Further still, and she writes from the perspective of a forty-year-old mother of an only child.  Gabaldon offers something for everyone at any stage of life beyond childhood.

I took a brief break from the series shortly after The Big E’s birth, tripped up by the unwaveringly realistic violence of A Breath of Snow and Ashes.  I (stupidly) wrote to the author, affirmed my never-ending adulation, and requested a PG-13 version of events.  She (unbelievably) wrote back, thanked me for my patronage, and (basically) said, “Life in the 1700s was tough.  Suck it up.”

Numerous directors have attempted to turn Outlander into a movie.  Gabaldon played her cards properly in creating books that $ would $ be $ optioned $ repeatedly and finally turned into a television series, unconstrained by the limitations of the film ratings system.  In anticipation of summer 2014 on Starz (and me without cable), I’m hip-deep in the series yet again.

When the vampires burn to a crisp in the raging sun of popular opinion.                        After steam-punk is punked for the very last time.                                                              When a perfectly balanced phrase finally throws off the shackles of poorly-worded Wonder Bread erotica.

Claire Randall Fraser will still be standing, in all her wild-haired post-feminist glory, her unreasonably sexy, kilt-clad, warrior husband at her side.  And I’ll be right there with her.  Over and over and over.

Thank you, Diana Gabaldon, for teaching me to read.  Again.

Musical Moment


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49 Responses to The Joy of Text: How Diana Gabaldon Changed My Life

  1. Kate says:

    I just started re-reading Outlander last week in preparation for the series. You’re right, can be read over and over. I am actually listening to it this time while I, once again, attempt to be even a little bit of a runner. Great post!

    • anne says:

      Love the idea of listening while exercising – may have to try it!

      • Belinda says:

        I’ve walked/run over 4300 miles in the last 5 years listening to the Outlander series. I still look forward to my long walks with my best friends Davina Porter and, of course, Jamie and Claire. Keep up the good work and enjoy the company.

        • anne says:

          I’m feeling motivated to purchase the audiobooks. Perhaps they will help strengthen my resolve to exercise!

          • Julie Hesler says:

            One of my daughters is much like you in that Outlander was her intro to reading books for pleasure. She was never an avid reader before.

            Like you, I’m going through them again in anticipation of the series and the 8th book. Just before I re-started, I moved and my commute went from 10-15 minutes to 45-55 minutes. Enter Outlander on audio. I can’t tell you how much it adds to the story. Davina Porter’s narration is divine (ha! see what I did there?) and you get the proper pronunciations of the Gaelic words instead of turning them into mangly-mush in your head. And you can’t skim, as I’ve found I do in some of Herself’s more descriptive, non-dialogue paragraphs. I highly recommend.

            And here’s what I’ve found: iTunes is the best place to get these books. It’s content from Audible, without having to use the Audible app or buy a subscription, and the price is the same. And then you get all the flexibility you’re accustomed to with iTunes. Barnes & Noble is a pain (ugh, Overdrive!), and for some reason, they’re missing one of the last books. (I only know this because I was given a B&N gift card for Christmas.) Happy listening!

          • anne says:

            Will search out the Divine. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Molly says:

    I maintain that Anne of Green Gables taught me how to be a girl…Claire Randall Fraser taught me how to be a woman. James Alexander Malcome MacKenzie Fraser taught me … well… mmmphmmm.

  3. Marlene says:

    I love Outlander, and can’t wait for the series. This is one that I’m so hoping works!

  4. Janet says:

    I’ve read all the books from Outlander to EITB several times, and listened to them all by audiobook, several times. I imagine I’ve learned a thing or two over the years, and wished my husband responded to life a wee increment as well as Diana’s Jamie Fraser. I know I’ll listen to them all again, and probably again after that. It takes longer with each new installment, but it’s fun to steep myself in the character developments over the series, and to relearn the history of our world at the various established times. I appreciate Diana’s excepts until the next installment very much. I can picture each one clearly and concisely, and can’t wait to see what’s next.

    • anne says:

      We all have Jamie-related wishes for our husbands… I’m sure mine would love trot about with a dirk and a broadsword. Yes, I’m serious!

  5. Well said, Anne! Shamefully, I’d never read any of Diana’s books until the first time I met her at a writers’ conference (Surrey). After all, she didn’t write in “my genre”. (Ha!) Then I bought a copy of Outlander… and loved it. I think that’s when I first learned the benefits of reading outside my favourite genres. She’s a wonderful writer as well as a delightful person.

  6. pat says:

    i finally just put them all on my nook, and I carry that around with me and at any time (because I think I have read each book 3 or 4 times, Outander and Voyager more) I can always find exactly the page I am thinking about or something I remember about the saga I need to refresh my mind about. Jamie and Claires story will stay with me forever.

  7. Pat says:

    Well said! You put into words almost exactly how I feel about the series. They can, are and will be read by legions of fans again and again. Your paperback copy looks pretty similar to mine. : ) BTW: I could not stand Jane Austen either.

    • anne says:

      Pat! So happy to have found another human with similar feelings about Jane Austen! I dragged my ratty paperback copy in for Diana Gabaldon to sign when she was in town a few years ago. It’s a TREASURE!

      • Pat says:

        Yep, did not like the Jane. Or Thomas Hardy. High school English required reading lists are so archaic. Even back in my day! IMO, the rattier the book, the greater the love.

        • Marilyn says:

          You know, I think high school English ruins a lot of literature because kids just aren’t mature enough for the books and turn off. I reread a lot of novels years later…I can get them free from And I loved them. Moby Dick. Tess of the Durbervilles (boy, did that chick get f…ed by the male chauvenist society!) War and Peace (who cares about Natascha…Tolstoy’s sarcastic remarks about war are priceless. But a teenager just wouldn’t get it.)

          • anne says:

            Marilyn – So true. The brain has to mature. What’s the answer? Do you expose kids to literature early on and hope for the best or present books in the context of what they can handle developmentally?

  8. Patty Procko says:

    I followed the music link you posted – Scotland The Brave with bagpipes and drums. It sounded so familiar, like it was a local song I couldn’t place? Did we remake this into an American song, like how The Star Spangled Banner was adapted from another Scottish tune? Ha! I finally realized the familiarity, though. I am from Dunedin FLORIDA and, starting at the age of 4, I would watch my older brother play trumpet for the Dunedin Highlander Band at Dunedin High School – complete with kilts, bagpipes, and drums! I remember sitting in that auditorium, ruffled tights and legs folded up in the theater seats, just enraptured as pipers came blasting down the aisles and onto the stage playing Scotland The Brave. An unexpected sweet memory of childhood and home. Thanks for posting. (g)

  9. Jenny says:

    Love your comments about Diana Gabaldon and her books. I’m an avid reader but my sister and I often find we skim through fifty books before finding one that we clutch reverently and say: “Now HERE is one to read!” DG’s are just such books, and you put it so well and so poetically. And as a single, 58 yr-old, childless and yet FULL OF LOVE AND LIFE, I also find much to find in her books that appeals to my sort as well. YAY.

    • anne says:

      Yay indeed! Please do list the other books that you clutch reverently – the rest of us will likely enjoy them, too!

  10. Wanda Hillmer says:

    Anne, well said, well said! My books are falling apart from being reread so many times I’ve lost count. I DO read other authors, but always come back to Diana’s because they are SO well written and, like many readers, I’m invested in the lives of Jamie, Claire and the rest of the Fraser clan.

  11. Martha Eddy says:

    Looking forward to the TV show – not a mini-series!

  12. Diana Gabaldon came into my life after she’d already published 7 books. I missed the long years of waiting between novels. My editor told me to read Outlander. I read the series the fall of 2011. I found out she presents every year at the Surrey Int’l Writers’ Conference on the day the conference closed in 2011. I had been to SIWC previously, but I hadn’t taken any workshops with her. I used the Compu-serve writing forum to ask some questions about historical Catholicism for a historical novel I was working on. To my astonishment, Diana herself responded, with a long and thorough explanation.

    On the day registration opened for SIWC 2012, I booked an appointment with her. Four months later, I met her the first time. That weekend she did a 15 mins consultation for the section she’d helped with months before. She was very encouraging of my work.

    I’m on the 9th time through the series now. I analyze the books, the character development, the diction, the style as I listen to Outlander books on a continuous audio book loop. I follow Diana’s writing tips and suggestions on the web and at conferences.

    She is a generous author, and I am so delighted that she is teaching me to write. Encouragement from someone whose work you admire is very inspiring. 🙂

    When I invited her to join us here in the Shuswap at our little Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival, I was delirious when she agreed. Our participants are going to learn so much!

    • anne says:

      Shawn – Thanks for your comments. The ninth time through the series since 2011??!!! Wowsa! So true regarding DG’s generosity. I’m approaching her books in a completely different light now that I practice writing. I’m particularly floored by the structure of DRAGONFLY IN AMBER. First person, third person, split centuries – I don’t have the necessary vocabulary yet to describe it!

      ** Shawn is a poet, harpist, novelist, teacher, poodle mother, and human mother – among other things. You can visit her at Be sure to check out her AWESOME HAIR!

  13. Winona Cross says:

    Well written! You have put the thoughts of hundreds of Outlander fans and readers into perfect words. Diana Gabaldon’s series is definitely written for women, and men, in loving relationships throughout the years. I have always been a voracious reader but never has a book or a series affected me so tangibly. It’s not the “passion”. It’s the relationship, the way Jamie and Claire work together to survive, the way they allow humor to intersect even the toughest moments of their lives. Outlander is about hope as well as love.

    I am, of course, looking forward to the series. I admit to being hesitant to watch the intimate scenes. I will feel as if I’m doing something wrong, like I’m somewhere I shouldn’t be.

    • anne says:

      Winona – yes, the depiction of the work and joy of relationship – wonderful! If the director is smart, he’ll approach the intimate scenes with grace and humility and allow us to witness a critical aspect of Claire and Jamie’s relationship.

  14. Marilyn Cullen says:

    My quilt teacher gave me Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager as a gift when I moved to Ireland in 1999. I have never read books that affected me so much as the Outlander series. The length is no problem–more time to enjoy the story. Since then I have turned so many people into lovers of the Outlander series. An English friend lamented that the Outlander series had spoiled her for other reading. Other books paled in comparison. My marriage and family therapist friend said they were the best novels on marriage that she had ever read and recommended them to her colleagues. I typed 20 pages of quotes from the first five books and sent them to her and asked for comments. She replied, thoroughly hooked. I sent her copies of the first 5 (all that were out at the time) and we both laughed at how impossible it was to do anything else but read them. My sister thought I was nuts. However, when a husband of a friend of hers committed suicide, my sister asked for help in writing a letter of sympathy. I told her I had a wonderful quote for her (from a conversation between Claire and Jamie) and read it to her. That quotation sold her and she changed her mind about the books. She now is a fan as well and has turned some of her friends on to them as well. I am grateful for Diana’s gift to all of us.

    • anne says:

      Thanks so much for your comments, Marilyn! I agree with your English friend – I have very little tolerance for other writers. I often quit reading after a couple chapters b/c I’d rather be reading Gabaldon.

  15. Carmen Stone says:

    Like all of you I have been through the Outlander series many times but all on audio.
    I am up to 7 times. I have never read a book (s) that made me feel like I was right there when all was happening like this series. I listened to tapes and when I couldn’t get them I listened on CD’s. The people at the library could not believe I read them over and over so many times. Like all of you I am waiting till June when the next book is out and also the tv series. I will have to sign up for Starz then.

    While I am waiting for the next book I am reading another very good series by
    Lauraine Snelling called “Red River of the North”. It is a very moving story of
    pioneers from Norway who brave the new world and settle in the Dakotas. The
    hardships they face keep you wondering what is on the next page. I will be done
    with them before Diana’s next book comes out.

  16. Sharon Levine says:

    Anne, great post! I’ve loved DG’s work since ’94, when my best friend gave me the first 2 books – just as we were leaving on a trip to Tucson, which involved side trips to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona. Well, needless to say, I didn’t really see much of the sights (oh, nice hole in the ground – what’s Claire doing NOW?!?! LOL)

    I’ve read them all multiple times and am now listening to them all, for the first time, in prep for MOBY. Thrilled anticipating the new show; I think it’s in good hands with Ron Moore and crew.

    If you’re not already, you should join the Heughan’s Heughligans and Caitrionation groups on Facebook – they are wonderful groups of fans, and often include pics and information about the upcoming show.

    • anne says:

      Sharon – I agree about Ron Moore. Was initially nervous to leave these books in the hands of a man – but hearing him talk… Gonna be great.

      Thanks for the tip on Heughligans and Caitionation! I want a Pocket Claire! My Pocket Jamie is crabby about his lack of a bride.

  17. Kathy says:

    I’ve loved Outlander since the early 90’s. I detest Jane Austen. You, busy lady and obviously cool person, are most definitely meant to be my friend. 😉

  18. Lynne Soderlund says:

    I ran into your parents Friday evening at the raucous G&S production, The Grand Duke. They directed me here to your blog. I read as far and the Outlander post and I would continue, but I simply must get to locating these books myself. How I missed them I can’t imagine. In the meantime, I want you to know that my all time favorite novel is “The Shadow of the Wind” which I re-read every so often – once reading it in Barcelona on tour of the very places in the book. I am off now to the library catalog to find DG. Blessings!

    • anne says:

      Mrs. Soderlund! (my beloved fourth through sixth grade teacher!) Hi and thanks so much for visiting the blog and leaving comments. I have fond memories of sitting on the carpet listening to you read WATERSHIP DOWN. As soon as I finish this reply, I’ll head over to the St. Paul Public Library site and try to shake down a copy of your favorite novel! Hope you enjoy Diana Gabaldon’s work. Love, Anne

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