They say a writer must be an avid reader, and I am, but when I am in the middle of writing a book and trying to find my voice, I tend to stay with the story rambling around in my brain instead of someone else's story.
But, when I'm the editing mode at the end of creating a book, or working on publishing and publicity, I love to pick up books and see what someone else's brain is emitting.
I was on Goodreads the other day clicking off books I have read, and I finally had to give up because there are so many and it was eating up all my time to check them off. Probably I only got to 10% of them, but who cares? It's not how many books you have read, but how well you have read them, or whether you have been lucky enough to read those two or three books that have really changed your feelings and perspective on life.
I started off writing The Tunes of Lenore because I wanted to try a light romance set at a boarding school. Obviously, my brain did not let that happen. So much more than light romance poured itself into that novel! When I finished it, I realized just how talented writers are who can keep things simple and straight-forward. It takes talent to stay plot-driven and allow theme to drift lightly and unthreateningly into a work, instead of what my mind tends to regurgitate which is more or less the opposite.
One book I found truly refreshing in this respect is Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle. In this science fiction fantasy, we follow the life of the protagonist, Maris, as she fulfills her dream of being a flyer using wings made from the parachute of the spaceship that originally brought her people to their planet. It's a lovely story with a simple but lively and plausible plot exploring self-fulfillment and social stratification in a romantic and engaging way. I recommend it. For me it was a refreshing breath of what air must feel like when flying, and a perfect antidote to two months of cloistered editing.
March 28, 2019
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult.
Crisply written, this book handles the multiple first-person style with clarity and grace. So often with books containing multiple narrators there I feel let-down when the author switches back to a perspective of a character I am not as interested in, but this is not the case in this well-crafted novel. Each narration switch brings correct and timely advancements in both the emotional arc of the characters and in the plot. It helps that the chapters are short and pithy, often ending with zingers that draw new connections between characters and the philosophical and emotional challenges they are facing.
Of course these connections are deliberately expressed in keeping with Picoult's overall theme in the book of our common humanity that gets overlooked when situations get judgmental and dire - like debating the legal and moral issues around an impending execution of a sympathetic, though convicted child molester and murderer. Picoult takes us on a deep dive into divisive capital punishment issues and contradictions for victims, advocates, and people of faith while never losing sight of the novel's larger thematic purpose of unity. It's a great read - combining clarity of expression and an easy plot to follow with intense and thoughtful theme and character development. Humans may be flawed, but the art of writing flawlessly lives on in Jodi Picoult!
April 12, 2019
One of the advantages of having lived in many places in the United States is that regional literature brings special joys. Such is the case with Dana Stabenow's novel, "A Taint in the Blood," set in Alaska. The protagonist, Kate Shugak, is a native private detective, and her negotiation of the physical and political landscapes of Alaska is remarkably true to what it feels like to actually live there. Just one tidbit - you would think that a place as cold and menacing as Alaska would motivate people in Alaska to wear flannel and CarHarts all the time, yet there is a large cultural obsession among the wealthier denizens to dress in Nordstrom's finest and sexiest black outfits.
Dana Stabenow is a kick and is to Alaska what Sue Grafton is to Santa Barbara. I recommend both authors highly!
April 14, 2019
3:15 by Gretchen McNeil is a YA Sci-Fi novel I picked up in a neighborhood mini-library on one of my walks. It has a great cover and a unique title. It also reads quickly with short chapters and lots of interesting plot twists and unusual takes on classic sci-fi portal and parallel universe tropes. I enjoyed how the teens in the book, at least the main characters, were portrayed as intelligent and well-educated. The adult characters were less interesting and rounded, however. If you like math and speculative cosmology, and I do, this novel's complexity will appeal to you. If you prefer that a novel's complexity derives from painful character growth and challenging thematic development, this novel may disappoint despite its clean and emotionally algebraic resolution.
July 29, 2019
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami 2018
If you have never read Murakami before, I suggest you begin with Norwegian Wood because it is a great love story that takes a less in-depth dive into issues and images of the unconscious than is his proclivity in later books. Once you get used to Murakami’s clear and accessible writing style you will be better prepared when he portrays themes and symbols that plumb the complex depths of Jungian-like symbols and psychology. His clean and expansive narrative is fully engaged in Killing Commendatore as it is in all of his books, but what I particularly admire about this novel is Murakami’s maturing sense of humbleness both toward the impossibility of truly understanding what goes on in the human mind (and the universe) but also what constitutes and true love in the light of circumstance and passion. It’s an immersive read with great characters and a summative ending that makes the whole journey immensely satisfying at the end.