My sister Julia died earlier this month. That’s probably the hardest sentence I’ve ever had to type. Julia was my first best friend, my confidante, my cowriter of two books, my go-to person whenever I didn’t know how to cope with something. I need her now to cope with this. I’m still trying to come to grips. Last week my other sister, Suzie, and I were at Julia’s house, packing away her things, which was a heartbreaking task. The only thing that made it easier was the friends and neighbors who came by to help. And the fact that Austin is such a friendly place. I felt surrounded by kindness.
But it was still difficult to go through that house. Every possession I boxed up felt like a goodbye. Especially the books. A bookworm her entire life, Julia had books in every room. She was a detective fiction nut and owned complete collections of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and so many others. PG Woodhouse had a good showing on her shelves, of course. (We spent part of the week searching for a good home for Jeeves, her dog.) I pulled down shelves and shelves of Georgette Heyer, Joan Smith, and Mary Jo Putney. Classic fiction. Historical fiction. Movie star autobiographies, which Julia and I devoured and swapped.
Julia was the first person I knew who wanted to be an author. When they were in elementary school, she and Suzie spent weekends closeted in a room co-writing stories on loose-leaf paper, fictional accounts of Julia, her friends, and a school suck-up named Fink von Stink, complete with illustrations. A large purple binder of the stories was on Julia’s shelves last week, too, and reading them with an editorial eye, I found them surprisingly fluid and well-written, and hilariously stupid.
So many books reminded me of the author manias that Julia passed on to me: Barbara Pym, Heyer, and British suspense writers like Nicci French and Val McDermid. A few were the authors that I had recommended to her, such as Robertson Davies, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Kate Atkinson. We both liked Rona Jaffe, so I understood completely when I pulled not one but two copies of Class Reunion off a shelf.
Reading is a passive, solitary activity, but Julia could be passionate and opinionated about stories. We argued over endings, and whether an author had flubbed it in the last chapter. Clearing out the bookshelves, I was reminded of the time we’d brought the same Anne Tyler book on a plane ride and had almost spent part of our vacation not speaking to each other over a disagreement about it. (Don’t ask.) I also remembered an afternoon when I was ten or eleven, when Julia finished Crime and Punishment and was so taken with it that she came to my room to tell me the story, making it sound so good that I decided I wanted to read it just as soon as I finished Old Yeller.
Julia was older than me by three years, and often felt the need to look out for me. When I was about to start school, she decided I needed to learn to spell so that I wouldn’t be an ignoramus when I arrived in first grade. She taught me one word before losing interest in the project, or losing patience with me. The word was J-U-L-I-A. I repeated it to myself constantly and wrote it in shaky letters on a poster in my room so I wouldn’t forget. As if I ever could.
13 thoughts on “Julia’s books”
so sorry for your loss. i lost my baby sister Karen 3 years ago….we both loved to read and read so many of the same books. May GOD bless you with his peace and grace during this very difficult time. Blessings, Liz Young
Thank you, Liz.
What a wonderful tribute to Julia, thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories, Liz. I’ve worked for Julia in the journal office since 2008; she was always so great to talk to, with so many fascinating stories to tell and knowledge to impart. We still cannot fathom that she is gone, but she will certainly never be forgotten. Deepest condolences to you all.
Thanks, Misty. Julia loved working with you all and used to mention everybody at the office in our conversations. I was telling Jennifer that I feel I knew her better than I do, because Julia would keep me up to date on the goings-on in the House journal office. One thing she told me recently was how she filled staff positions. She said she looked for qualified people, but also interesting people she could enjoy being around all day long, especially during those long days of session.
I am so sorry. I cannot imagine losing my sister. I lost my son over a year ago and the grief is hard to handle. May God carry you when you can’t navigate yourself! I find great therapy in reading” life is sweet”… thank you!♡
I’m sorry about your son, Jennifer. Loss is hard, but it helps when people reach out to send a message, as you did. Thank you.
I am so sorry to read about your sister’s passing…
Thank you, Sahar.
A perfect tribute, Liz: Julia was one of those people who could truly lose herself in a book. From the time she was little, she loved words; reading, writing, and of course discussing! She was four years younger than I, but was better-read than I was from about the time she was 10, and she pulled ever farther ahead as the years went on. She so enjoyed your work, and loved collaborating on the books you wrote together.
What will we do without her?
Finished reading your book “Miss You Most of All” a couple of minutes ago. As I tend to be after finishing a book, I was at a loss for something to bring me out the book’s world & back to my own reality. Before closing the book but after I was done staring off aimlessly in thought, I read the small author biography on the inside of the back cover & found your site url. Curiosity & a change of pace brought me to this post.
I’m grateful to Julia & others who directly & indirectly infulenced you to write this book. I mean this by how her interest in being an author may have influenced you into it too. And how having her as a sister in general may have helped mold you into the type of person you are now. Thank you for writing this book, & Thank you for the emotions & thoughts your book gave me. I hope Julia, being one of the first to read it, enjoyed it as much as I did. Please take care and continue to write Elizabeth Bass.
Thank you so much, Mica. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I know what you mean about trying to transition from a book back to your own reality. I’ve been in that state many times!
I came into work today and all I could think of was Julia. Why? I have no clue. But I thought that I would see if you had any updates on your world. And then I found this blog. Oh, so sweet. Makes me miss her even more. SeSee
I know what you mean, SeSee. I miss her like crazy all the time, but some days are just Julia days. I haven’t updated here in a while because…life. But I’m glad you found and liked this post. Hope all is well with you. Xoxo, Liz