Elizabeth: What Have You Read Wednesday?

CarpeLibrumI’ve read a variety of writing craft books and rules of writing by various authors and one thing they all seem to agree on is that reading is critical in order to be a good writer.

In her “Rules for Writing” post, it is Australian writer Hannah Kent’s number one rule.

To be a good writer you must, first and foremost, be a good reader. How else will you learn what to do? Read as much as possible, as often as possible, and if you read something you like, or something that makes you laugh, or something that moves you in a strange, ineffable way, ask why.” ~ Hannah Kent

In her “Twelve ‘Classic’ Women Writer’s post last month Kat expressed her plan to read some of the classics this year. My goal is just to get my to-be-read pile down to a manageable size before it topples over and hurts someone. To that end, once a month I’ll be checking in to report on my reading progress and to see what everyone is reading. Hopefully I won’t wind up with an even bigger to-be-read pile as a result.

Without further ado, here’s what I read this month:

A new author

First up was Best Man For Hire by Tawna Fenske.   I first met Tawna several years ago on a blog we both followed, and later learned more about her on Facebook and her own Don’t Pet Me I’m Writing blog. She writes quirky steamy romantic comedies. Emphasis on the steamy. And the quirky. This is the third book in her Front and Center series. The heroine is a wedding planner who specializes in unusual weddings, and the her hero is “so perfect he’s practically a Boy Scout—if Boy Scouts were big, ripped Marines with gorgeous gray eyes, and good at, oh, everything. Especially sex.” Though I hadn’t read the first two books in the series, I jumped right in with this one and found it enjoyable and entertaining. I’m definitely going to have to dig through my TBR pile and retrieve books one and two. I will admit to blushing and looking away from time to time, but the book was a fun read.  Tawna has a real knack for making the most innocent of phrases sound not so innocent at all.

That sounded filthier than I meant it.” ~ Tawna Fenske

A Classic

Next up was the classic, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Written in 1859, it is considered to be one of the first (if not the first) mystery novel, and is a world away from the first book I mentioned. For one thing, it’s long. My print version is over 600 pages. It was also written for a different type of audience (and I’m not just talking about a non-quirky / non-steamy one). Initially published in serial form, it has a leisurely feel to it; packed with description and narrative. The most interesting aspect of the story is that it is told from multiple narrators, giving unique perspectives of the story.   It was based, in part, on an eighteenth century case of abduction and wrongful imprisonment, and uses the theme of substituted identity, which was said to be a favourite of Collins. The book wasn’t a quick read by any means, but it was worth the time and a nice change of pace from Regency and Contemporary fiction.

This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.” ~ Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Something Thought-Provoking

Last up was Emotional Awareness by The Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The book documents a series of conversations between two curious men about human emotions and the pursuit of psychological fulfillment. Emotional experiences, meditative practices, and the nature of compassion are just a few of the topics that they discuss and try to reach an understanding about. Written in an interview-style format with a bit of humour mixed with its probing discussions, the book is a science meets philosophy/religion intellectual joining of the minds. Reading was slow going at points, as it took time to digest their discussions, but a worthwhile read that left me with a better understanding of compassion and emotional balance than I started out with.

So, what have you read recently?

22 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What Have You Read Wednesday?

  1. Since I got back from Arizona, I’ve been reading Tony Hillerman: first The Ghostway (the earliest book my library had) and now Coyote Waits. The third one I checked out, but have not yet started to read, is The Fallen Man. Tony Hillerman is the best. I also downloaded You Know Who I Am, a free mystery by an author I was unfamiliar with (a little irony there), Diane Patterson, which was absolutely terrific, and then downloaded a romance by a NYT best-selling author, which was so unutterably dreary I deleted it after one chapter.

    I might be reading too much and writing too little!

    • Kay, I’m not sure it’s possible to read too much, is it? I haven’t read any Hillerman – I’ll have to check him out. Sorry for the dreary book, but nice that the free mystery was good.

  2. A few days ago I read What The Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries. I’m pretty sure it was a give-away at RWA, and I never got around to reading it, I think because I wasn’t really engaged by the title, and then I forgot it was on my bookshelf. I found it again because I was looking for a physical book to read in the bath 🙂 . I really enjoyed it – loved the characters and the author’s voice. The book is the first in a series of four about The Duke’s Men, a kind of Regency detective agency, and I immediately downloaded, read and enjoyed the other three. I’m resisting the urge to read more until I get back into a writing rhythm.

    I bought my husband a couple of Hillerman books while I was on the road with Kat and Kay. I’m planning to try them when he’s finished. And I’m going to treat myself to a hard copy of Kay’s leaner, snappier new edit of Loving Lucy (with the fabulous new cover).

    • Jilly – I think I have that same book in my TBR pile. I’ll have to move it closer to the top. Love the idea of a Regency detective agency.

  3. These all sound great. My life seems to only contain reading time at the expense of writing time.

    I just finished The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Like The Woman in White, it’s really long–775 pages in hardback–but it’s a great read, with echoes of Catcher in the Rye and Great Expectations.

    I’m currently reading The Abundant Bohemian: How to Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving in the Process., by Joe Downing. It’s full of great examples of people who have managed to strike a balanace between gainful employement and various artistic endeavors and practical advice on how to do that.

    • Jeanne, I didn’t read much at all last year, because I was trying to focus only on writing time, but that just didn’t pan out. This year I’m going for a more balanced approach. The Abundant Bohemian sounds like a good addition to my “thought-provoking” category.

  4. Hello – I’ve just read two books in succession that I really disliked, which was instructive from a writing point of view but otherwise most annoying (plus, I feel a bit mean saying what they are). I’m now reading Julia Quinn’s latest, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy (enjoyable but not up to Bridgerton heights) with a police procedural A Killing Frost by R D Wingfield running alongside it. Next up, the Courtney Milan contemporary – very interested to see where she goes with that, and Diamonds are Forever, which I’m reading as 1950s/espionage background for my WIP.

    • Oh, Rachel, I love a good police procedural (I’m totally hooked on Tana French, although hers cross over into other genres, as well). Would you recommend A Killing Frost?

      • I really enjoy the books but they are probably not typical police procedurals. Inspector Frost is a rude loud mouth who rushes round solving about a million cases at once – A Killing Frost is the last one of only six that are written (but the plot is pretty much the same in each one, so you can dip in anywhere in the series). It’s worth having a look at the Amazon reviews to see what you think Nancy. Has anyone else read them – Jilly?

        • Nope, haven’t read these, but they sound just like my husband’s cup of tea. He’s probably read more police procedurals than I have romances, so I must ask him.

    • Rachel – don’t you hate it when you make time to read and then the books are a disappointment? Glad they can be instructive from a writing point of view, but definitely annoying. Hope you’re enjoying Julia Quinn’s latest. I haven’t read anything from her in a while. Must remedy that.

  5. I love the way you recap what you’ve read 🙂

    I’m currently doing two reading challenges this year (I think my eyes were bigger then my allotted reading time). The two challenges are #AvidReaderChallenge2015 and #RomanceReaderChallenge2015.

    I’ve knocked 3 books off the list: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, Fat Chance by Robert H. Lustig and Burned by Karen Marie Moning. I’m currently reading Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen 🙂

    • Darla, reading challenges always sound like fun, but have a way of taking more time than expected. Sounds like you are making good progress. How did you like the Elizabeth Gaskell book? I have Wives and Daughters by her on my list.

      • North and South is a good book. A classical romance that sweeps you away to another time with all the descriptions. That was also the bad part of the book. It is very long and gets very tedious but I think it’s worth the struggle. I saw the BBC mini series (Titled: North and South) long before I read the book and I really enjoyed it. So much so that the final scene has stuck with me all these years. Its on Netflix right now if you want to check it out.

  6. I’ve been stuck in a popcorn-books rut for a while, reading recommendations (mostly YA novels) from Joe. You’ve inspired me to break out of that rut… but left me with the quandary, trying to decide what to read next.

    • Scott – I say pick a book, any book. Have you found anything in your YA reading that you would recommend? That seems to be a rapidly growing area, if the shelves in the (archaic) bookstores are any indication.

        • Talk about books I’ve liked? Well, gee, twist my arm…

          “Nation” by Terry Pratchett is probably the best stand-alone YA novel that I’ve read. Because it’s Pratchett, there is deep social commentary and subtle humor. Because it’s Pratchett, all of that is hidden inside a story that is enjoyably within any reader’s grasp. For slightly older (13-18) readers, I’d recommend his Tiffany Aching novels. They’re substantially thicker and more nuanced than “Nation”, and make fine reading for most adults, while still being enjoyable for teens. (Think of them as what the Harry Potter novels would have been if Harry had been female and sensible and if there were no Hogwarts, only the school of hard knocks.)

          The Tamora Pierce novels (The Magic Circle and The Circle Opens, 4 books in each series) are solid examples of the next tier of the YA genre. The writing isn’t bad, and both the characters and the plots are teen-appropriate. Nobody’s going to have their life changed by reading them, but sometimes you just need a fun read.

          The Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold straddle the border between YA and “just genre fiction”. All of the language is YA-appropriate. For quite a while the main character is YA-age-appropriate. Nearly all of the situations are YA-appropriate, but use your judgement as the series progresses. (None of those statements apply to the first two novels (Shards of Honor/Barryar) of the Vorkosigan Saga, which occur before Miles is born.)

  7. I’ve had an uneven month. A lot of books have been learning experiences, but some of them have been quite disappointing. I’ve read two academic books — one on sewing during the decades around 1900, and another on home life. The sewing one could have been summed up with “people sewed. Some people got money for it.” Not a lot about the sewing details, or even the equipment they used. The other might have been, “People used the parlor for special guests and also as a 3-D album to teach and record family interests. It was replaced by the living room as people began to pare down their lives and lose servants.” Which will inform my book, but it was about six hours of reading for that general impression.

    I’m afraid to read for fun; I’m afraid it’ll spoil my voice, which is starting to pick up some 19th century inflexions. I’m lucky that the 19th century was a good century for books, LOL. I should probably turn to those for something fun next week. I think I’ve got a couple of H. Rider Haggard (who was a big adventure novelist in my era) on my Kindle. Maybe I’ll have something fun to report next month.

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