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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

On this date in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama.

A few days after she passed away in 2016, Berkeley Breathed published the above tribute, and it’s my favorite. It still brings tears to my eyes.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most important books in my reading life. I am not sure how many times I have read it — at least five. (The only book I can think of which I may have read more times is Charlotte’s Web.)

Mockingbird is my touchstone for empathy and self-respect. It is my reminder to treat others with dignity and respect even (and perhaps especially) when they don’t extend to you the same courtesy but not at the expense of your own self-respect and personal convictions. You still need to stand your ground, and you need to be able to live with your actions and their consequences. Just because a point of view or course of action works for most everyone else doesn’t mean that it has to work for you.

It’s a tough balance, but it is one I work towards every day. It may be time for another reading.

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Who knew?

Probably lots of people, but I was not one of them until today.

Slow River was on my shelf for years. I am not sure whether or not it still is, and I am quite sure that I have not yet read it. (I went through a phase where I was trying to make room for an ever-growing yarn stash and knitting far more than I was reading, so I overdid it with culling the library. Plenty of books have not been missed, and it was fine to send them to other homes. Others were a mistake to release. Live and learn.)

Today I read her Big Idea entry and learned that she also writes stories about magic — the old, wild magic of Britain and Wales.

As a result, Hild and Spear are now on my reading list. Spear is new and easily had. Hild is not and will require a bit more effort.

There is more to say, but I am extremely tired, and I must be up much earlier than usual tomorrow morning, so more will have to wait. In the meantime, click the links and amuse yourselves.

Good night.

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There are probably things that I should have done today other than what I actually did today, but it is too late to worry about that problem now.

What I did spend a lot of time doing is reading. I decided to catch up on John Scalzi’s blog, and since I wasn’t sure where I left off, I just started with the beginning of April. That seemed like a fairly safe, not too time consuming plan. Silly me. Down the rabbit hole I fell, and gladly.

There have been five Big Idea posts so far this month. Well, actually, there have been six, but I skipped the Wil Wheaton post. The others were from Leah Cypess, Adam Oyebanji, Nancy Werlin, E.C. Ambrose, and John Dodd. I am not familiar with any of these authors, but now I am intrigued by them all. Is every single book the kind of book I like to read? Not necessarily, but that part isn’t important. There are all sorts of books for all sorts of readers out there, which is as it should be. Something piques your interest? Check it out. If it turns out not to be your thing, then put it down and pick something else.

All of the posts dovetailed nicely into my current enthusiasm for learning about storytelling and writing processes. Leah Cypess wrote about how and why she used the same idea twice. She retold the same fairy tale in two different books and from two different points of view. I like retellings. I like different points of view. What really perked up my learning antennae, however, was the part about the difference between writing a story from an adult’s point of view and writing one from a child’s point of view. What can a fully grown person do that, say, an 11 year-old cannot? What are the differences in options and choices?

The first story “Stepsister” is available for free on the author’s web site. Glass Slippers is the new middle grade novel, available at your bookseller of choice. I look forward to reading both. (By the way, Glass Slippers is the second in a series of retellings. The first, Thornwood, is a Sleeping Beauty retelling.)

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji might not be too high on my reading list because I am not a big fan of space exploration stories, but his line of reasoning for how he developed the story is insightful. It meshes well with the concept I wrote about in my Plan Comes Together post from a few days ago.

He started with a dream he is passionate about and that he would love to make come true and then built the story as a way to make the dream come true. He explains it way better than I am summarizing it, so just go read his post. I like the conflict in the premise, so I downloaded a sample. If I like the writing style and the characters, I will add the book to my list.

E.C. Ambrose followed a similar path to write Drakemaster, except that instead of following and reasoning out a dream, he followed a paper trail of research. He started small, with a footnote referencing a medieval Chinese astronomical clock. That’s a pretty specific starting point, right? His research led him to the rise of the Mongol Empire, which eventually covered more contiguous land than any other empire ever. Needless to say, that was a bit much to cover and too far away from the clock which started him down this path, so he went back to the city where the clock has been built and found the conflict he needed for his story in a rebellion against the Mongols.

The authors describes Drakemaster this way: “A team of rivals in a desperate race across medieval China to locate a clockwork doomsday device. The rest, in this case, isn’t history—it’s the future.” Historical fantasy — sign me up.

Healer & Witch by Nancy Werlin and Ocean of Stars by John Dodd both had to wait their turn, and the books had to wait years between original writing and finishing and publication. They are both labors of love, and they are firsts for their authors. Healer & Witch is Werlin’s first middle-grade novel, and Ocean of Stars is Dodd’s first published novel.

Werlin had to put her story aside (a story which she wrote out longhand by the way) so that she could fulfill a contractual obligation for another book and because she was told at the time that there was another similar book already on the market. (The story sounds pretty unique to me, but I certainly haven’t read everything.) In the end, that story waited patiently in a cabinet for 25 years to be rediscovered as a source of comfort for the author during the pandemic. Of the group, Healer & Witch is the book I am most excited to read. (Yes, I am technically a grown-up, and yes, I love reading books written for all different age groups. A good story and well-drawn characters are worth reading no matter the age group targeted by the author or the marketing team.)

In 2014, John Dodd wrote a million words. A million. In a year. He finished six novels, but the seventh, Ocean of Stars wouldn’t behave and wouldn’t be finished. He put it aside for a while, and then he got some input. Then he worked on it more and got more input. Eventually he wrangled it to completion, and it is now his first published novel.

Based on Dodd’s Big Idea post, I would call the story alternative futuristic historical science fiction. As a space story with time travel, the book doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I am going to give it a chance because I am interested in the character Caterina, who sees that the mistakes of the greedy and powerful continue to be repeated and who wants to take the necessary stand to stop it.

Well. So that was a good chunk of my day in a very large nutshell, and I haven’t even gotten to reading the excerpts I downloaded. They need to wait until I get at least one book read this month. I might have more to say once I get that far. In the meantime, if you want to read these and other Big Idea posts, they are all grouped together here, starting with the most recent.

Happy Easter!

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Many writers, myself included, are drawn to writing tools, advice, and inspiration. Do they have to potential to make us better, more productive, and happier writers? Yes. Is at least half their appeal the opportunity for distraction and procrastination? Assuredly.

(Knitters have the same sort of relationship with the website ravelry.com. Is it a fabulous resource for patterns, techniques, and support? Yes. Do we fall down rabbit holes looking at patterns and posting in discussion groups and admiring projects when we could be spending that time actually knitting? Without a doubt.)

Today’s distraction, er, tool comes to you courtesy of the amazing story collective The Moth. Stories shared during Moth events are told by a person standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people. It is not recitation or speechmaking. There are no notes, and there is no memorization. It is an organic, ancient, and undoubtedly nerve-wracking process, but it is not without preparation. These spoken stories involve as much craft and revision as anything written.

Over the last 25 years, The Moth has developed a program to help people tell their stories, to take an idea and learn how to not only share it but bring the audience into it. On April 26th, aspiring storytellers will be able to get their hands on How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth.

Have I read the online excerpt on the Random Penguin website? Yes, I have. Have I read the sample on the website of the largest online bookseller? Yes, I have. Am I tempted to preorder it from my local independent bookseller so that I can get a pre-order bonus? Most certainly. (Do I have unread books about the craft and skill of writing on my bookshelves? Indeed, I do. Is that an impediment or a deterrent? No, not really.)

Based on what I have read so far, this book is not only for writers and performers. It is for anyone who wants to share a story with anyone else, to build connection and community. Isn’t that connection something we need in these wild and crazy times? I think so.

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The last several years have been … well, everyone knows what they have been. And nothing in the news headlines indicates that the situation will improve significantly anytime soon. Sure, there are bright spots here and there, but the shadows still loom large and dark.

There’s a lot of talk about self care — to the point that it has become an industry unto itself. If any of those offerings work for you, great! If not, then just find something small and simple, and don’t underestimate the power of small, simple, and brief.

Last night my bliss was freshly-popped popcorn, a homemade vanilla milkshake, and opening day baseball.

Tonight I am distracting myself with a new book: Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan.

The basic premise is pretty common — a woman finds out that her marriage has fallen apart, and she is the last to know — but this one has a slightly different twist, at least to me.

I have only read the first two chapters, so I don’t really consider these to be spoilers, but if you want to preserve all of the mystery, avert your eyes now.

Joan’s globe-trotting photographer husband cheated on her with his assistant five years ago. Yawn, right? The fun part is that the relationship resulted in the birth of twin boys. Casey (the husband) has come to the conclusion that it is time for him to become a more involved father, although he and the mother have been co-parenting the whole time. He offers that the five of them could become one big blended family, but his priority is the kids. After sharing all of this news with Joan, Casey gets on a plane to Japan for a work trip.

What I love is that Joan opts for, if not a scorched earth policy, swift and complete excision. Casey walks out the door, and the first item on Joan’s to do list is changing the locks. She is devastated, but she doesn’t let it keep her from taking action. She seeks counsel from her friends (and her attorney), and she cuts off the friends who knew about the other family and somehow convinced themselves that it was in her best interest not to tell her … for five years.

Now it is on to chapter three in which Joan has to tell her mother.

Happy weekend, everyone!!

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I wasn’t sure what I might want to write about today. It wasn’t a very exciting day — a nice, quiet Sunday. I did cast off a pair of socks (my second pair for March), and I definitely need to do a sock post, but that means remembering to take pictures when there is decent lighting to be had. I haven’t committed to the next book I am going to read yet, but as I was looking into the Patricia Highsmith collection, I came across a couple of contenders, and one of them got me to thinking about one of my linguistic pet peeves.

One possibility is East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman, an author who was born in Pakistan and grew up in London. The tagline on the front cover is: “From small-time drug dealer to MI5’s reluctant secret weapon.” The cover art has a kind of vintage feel, and I tend to be drawn in by the look and feel of a book, so I gave it a try.

The book starts with a quote from Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Chapter one opens with the protagonist introducing himself, identifying as a Muslim, explaining what that means in his specific case, and describing his experience as a British-born Muslim. This is a perspective and experience quite different from my own, so I was intrigued. “Sign me up,” I thought.

In the third paragraph, the profanity started, and I was a little less inclined to keep reading. (I probably will because I am interested in this character and his journey.)

It wasn’t a lot of profanity, but it didn’t serve a purpose either. I know that lots of people are free and easy with the expletives these days. I don’t find it offensive so much as unnecessary, annoying, and distracting. A well-chosen expletive can be extremely satisfying and get a point across when more genteel language just won’t do.

These days, however, profanity is as common as punctuation … or the ubiquitous (and equally annoying in my world) “like.” I end up thinking that the person just needs a more expansive vocabulary.

Certain four-letter expletives are everywhere these days, and I wonder if they are losing some of their potency. There is usually an asterisk or two in the words, so they haven’t become completely acceptable.

I’m not out to censor profanity at all. If you want to use it, have at it. But is the word or expression you are using really the most appropriate or effective choice for the sentiment or idea you are trying to communicate?

It’s a minor irritation in the grand scheme of things, but it has made me think more about word choice, and not only when it comes to profanity. There are plenty of words which feel … lazy or generic to me. Saying something is stupid or good or bad. Really? Is that the best description I can use?

Even as I wrote this post, I struggled with some of my word choices. In a few instances, I don’t particularly like the choice I made, but I couldn’t think of a better choice. If I come up with words or phrases I prefer, I might come back and edit. In the meantime, I am going to go with the flow and send my linguistic musings out into the world.

P.S. Hello, new followers! ~waves~ Welcome to my little corner of the internet.

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(Random thought: Am I supposed to capitalize blog post headings like titles? I guess they are like articles, but they don’t feel that formal or official. I suppose I could look it up and at least find a best practice somewhere. Until then, I’ll improvise as the mood strikes me.)

(Also, this choice to just write and post and not worry really takes the pressure off and pretty much obliterates expectations. Cool!)

Note: This post might qualify as containing spoilers for The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, so if you plan to read the book, proceed with caution. I’m sharing some thoughts I have about one of the characters and a connection I made as a result, but not revealing any major plot points or developments.

In The Paris Apartment, as Jess tries to figure out what is going on with her brother and what might have happened to keep him from being at the apartment when she arrives, she talks to the other people living in the apartment building. There are also chapters told from the point of view of those people, and they reveal their interactions with Ben.

As I was reading, I decided that Ben might not be as sincere or as good a guy as he seemed. Charming? Yes. Charismatic? Yes. But also sharp and observant and not above using his charm and charisma for, shall we say, less than altruistic purposes. I got the feeling that he might have been up to something. A bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, even. You think he’s a caring friend who is showing genuine interest and concern, but is he? Did he come to Paris with a purpose, plan, or agenda?

Eventually it clicked for me that there were hints of Tom Ripley in Ben. Nothing so sinister or violent as the talented Mr. Ripley, but a young man with charm and charisma who could talk his way into and out of situations as the need arose or an opportunity presented itself. Someone who was a bit of a chameleon as it suited his purposes. Ben’s adopted family provided him with a good life and education, but he didn’t have a lot of money. Even if he did always seem to catch a break and come out on top, he wasn’t able to live like Nick, the wealthy friend who got him into the apartment in Paris, and he may have resented it.

Being reminded of Tom Ripley got me to thinking about Patricia Highsmith and that I should read beyond Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I knew that she was a prolific writer, and I wondered whether she kept letters or journals and whether they had been collected or published. A quick search turned up Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta and published by W.W. Norton just a few months ago.

When Highsmith passed away, she left behind an extensive personal history in the form of 18 diaries and 38 notebooks. The volumes contain a total of about 8000 pages, documenting not only her life but also her evolution and growth as a writer.

From the editorial note at the beginning of the book: “Pat essentially maintained a double account of her life: whereas she used the diary to detail her intense, at times painful personal experiences, she used the notebook to process these experiences intellectually and muse on her writing. Pat’s notebooks were workbooks, and a playground for her imagination…. Her diaries help us better understand the notebooks…. While the two formats can be read independently of each other, when read in tandem they help to gain a holistic understanding — in Pat’s own words — of an author who concealed the personal sources of her material for her entire life, and whose novels are more likely to distract us from who she was, than lead us to her.” (The digital excerpt I am reading does not have page numbers or I would include them here.)

Two accounts. The raw, personal, intimate events in one and the reactions, ideas, and creativity they spawned in another. All I can think is, “Brilliant!! Absolutely brilliant!”

I often hesitate to read published letters or diaries because they are such private works. Sometimes I shy away from reading memoirs of people who interest me because I don’t necessarily want to know more than I do from experiencing their art or music. For example, I have a copy of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen sitting on my bookshelf, and I still haven’t decided whether or not I want to read it. He’s an amazing storyteller. He’s thoughtful, insightful, observant, and well aware of his own flaws and imperfections. On the other hand, I have a very personal relationship with his music, and the music and the live performances may be all I need. I might not need or even want to know the stories behind it all because it might change my relationship with the music. It’s a tough call.

In contrast, I very much want to read Unrequited Infatuations: Odyssey of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Consigliere by Stevie Van Zant, one of the original, if not continuous, members of the E Street Band. Except for the solo years, he is always there on stage to Bruce’s left, and he has had many endeavors and adventures away from E Street, so I am fascinated to read what he has to say.

Returning to Highsmith, the introduction to the new book indicates that she clearly meant for her diaries and journals to be collected, preserved, and accessible in some form. The editor notes that certain people have been anonymized to protect them and their families, so while personal and intimate, it’s not an expose. I like and admire Highsmith’s writing style and respect her as an important literary figure of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t call myself a big fan. This “behind the scenes” look into her writing process as much as her life, however, sounds like it is right up my alley.

I shall investigate further and report back.

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I am not sure how else to describe it.

The structure reminds me a bit of Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Morena-Garcia in that an ordinary person — not a detective or private investigator or some private citizen with a penchant for sleuthing — finds herself looking into a disappearance. The atmosphere of The Paris Apartment is darker, but Velvet Was the Night is grittier (70s era Mexico).

Picking up from my previous post, Jess is on edge because she is trying to escape one life and start over with another. She doesn’t really think anyone is after her, but she’s not sure, and she has had enough hard knocks to make her a combination of reckless and cautious. She takes chances because she doesn’t really have anything to lose.

As the story progresses, and the characters and relationships get more complicated, or at least raised more questions — it is definitely a character-driven story — I wondered if it was going to be one of those mysteries which builds up a lot of suspense and secrets that eventually get revealed, but the actual motive and culprit are something else entirely, almost unrelated and conveniently veiled by other more tantalizing options. Or would there be a plot twist thrown in at the end to tie all of the threads together?

As the story progressed further, I became more interested in how things would turn out and less concerned that the rug would be pulled out from under me. There is this interesting juxtaposition of people who are, should be, or even want to be intimately connected but don’t quite manage it for a number of reasons. Siblings, for example. Well, half-siblings. Jess and Ben have always been there for each other. Sort of. They have shared trauma and grief which binds them, and yet they end up on different paths.

The lives of the apartment building residents are intertwined and yet divergent. I don’t know how to say more without giving too much away. There are some twists, but nothing too shocking if you are paying attention. There is a deft sleight of hand by the author as to what the most serious crime is.

One of the complimentary review blurbs is “Exceedingly clever.” I am not sure I would go as far as exceedingly, but clever is a fitting description.

I am not sure that justice is quite served, but all of the pieces do fit together, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It works.

If you want complete edge-of-your-seat suspense and grand, shocking reveals, this is not your book, but if you want a clever, well-crafted plot driven by varied and interesting characters, each with their own flaws and secrets, then add this book to your reading list.

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The news and headlines are just too much again today — and I don’t think that I even read anything about COVID or the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was all domestic nonsense. Well, not nonsense because all of it was quite serious, but it might be a little easier to absorb if it were nonsense, if there weren’t real consequences for a lot of real people.

Anyway, on this chilly, rainy, spring evening, I am disappearing into The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. I am about fifty pages into it and trying to decide if it is a taughtly-written mystery or if it is going to take some horrific turn that gives me nightmares.

Jess is running away from her past and her present, and she runs to her half brother Ben in Paris. Even though he knows that she is coming, he is not waiting for her when she arrives late at night. She finds her way into his apartment and is observed by several other residents and the concierge of the building in the process.

The next day he still has not returned, and she notices things which indicate more than a casual absence. Jess doesn’t want to involve the police for her own reasons, but she starts to worry all the same.

The story is told from multiple points of view — I am up to five so far, including Jess — and I can’t decide whether any of the narrators are reliable. From the dust jacket: “Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.”

I am both nervous and curious. So far curiosity is winning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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This book came up in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Truth, Fact post, and at the time I mentioned that it really deserves its own post. Well, today the book comes out in paperback, so now seems like a good time for the post. I will try not to get carried away and spoil anything.

Click on the image to read the first three chapters and the Machinehood Manifesto.

Machinehood is set in 2095. Technology and pharmaceuticals have infused almost every part of everyday life. There are drugs to prevent illness, promote healing, enhance physical strength and skill, and improve cocentration. People have high-tech implants for communication. They broadcast their lives via swarms of micro drones, earning tips from followers. There are machines and robots of varying levels of sophistication everywhere for most every purpose. Suborbital flight is a preferred means of travel. It is a future which is only a few steps ahead of our present for the most part.

Welga Ramirez, a former special forces soldier, is on the verge of a major career and life change. At 35, she is still fit enough for her bodyguard role, but she is being replaced by someone younger anyway. It’s okay, though. She has plans for a quieter life, until one of her last jobs goes horribly wrong.

Someone or something called the Machinehood publishes a manifesto demanding rights for machines with Artificial Intelligence and demanding that production of all of the pills people take be stopped. The group stages violent attacks, killing several pill funders (the people responsible for the production) and then escalate to the technological infrastructure on which everyone and everything is so dependent.

Because of her military background and the ill-fated mission which resulted in her leaving the military to become a bodyguard, Welga is more prepared — and determined — to fight this new threat than just about anyone else, even if it means breaking promises and revisiting a painful past.

The plot is interesting and moves along at a good clip. It’s complex without being overly complicated. The book tackles or at least touches on a host of social and political issues — workers’ rights, financial disparity between races, classes, and countries, political corruption\maneuvering, scientific ethics, religion, personal privacy, and what happens when the line between human and machine gets more difficult to define. But it is the characters and their relationships which really make the book work, and they are why you don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to read and enjoy this book.

Welga is a strong, fierce, smart, funny woman. She is deeply committed to her craft (which I think is a better word choice than career in her case), her colleagues, her family, and her country (though not so much the government). We meet her brother, her father, her sister-in-law, her partner, and become equally immersed in their lives and relationships. These are people living through a major global crisis — technological rather than viral in nature — and still dealing with the every day challenges of getting older, raising children, keeping a marriage\long-term partnership together, and trying to take care of themselves while helping others where they can.

There is a parallel (might not be the right word, but secondary didn’t work for me) storyline of another strong woman, a bioethicist who must make harrowing decisions when her son is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. I’m not sure how to say more without giving too much away, but the point is that it is not only the main female character who exhibits strength in the face of adversity.

I don’t think I fully grasped it until I had finished the book, or was at least close to it, but the women are the strength and driving force in this story, and the men in their lives support them (and I don’t mean financially). That support doesn’t come without challenges or conflict, but at the end of the day, no matter what, the men not only don’t stand in the way of whatever the women want or need to do but do everything they can to help, and they are in no way diminished as a result. It feels so natural and real that it took a while for it to sink in just how impressive and important it is.

I finished reading the book more than a month ago, and I am still thinking about those characters and those relationships. They are going to stick with me for a long time.

Go read the book. You can start here with the first three chapters.

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