For the Love of Epistolary Novels, Part 2

We have made it to March!  Where the impact of snowstorms is not as severe and there is more light to drive in!  And Spring…it’s nigh….so nigh…

I have been to Washington DC during peak cherry blossom season.  It’s even better in person.

Setting myself up to even read two of any BookRiot category feels like a lot in some of the listed ones I haven’t ventured into (like manga.  Comics are taking the place of my dreading of the celebrity memoir), but it it easier when BookRiot posts their recommendations for these.  Four is certainly too many, but here we are.  I explained in my last post their appeal to me:  the shorter chunks of chapters, the enjoyment I have always gleaned out of remote correspondence and the memories I have had falling in love over correspondence.  And even though that love didn’t work out long term, I wouldn’t have changed it.

I also blame BookRiot a little for pointing out that these two books today also fit the category and they were already on the TBR.  So I had to do it. They made me.

where'd you go, bernadette.jpg

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

Now this is one of those books that I felt I saw on Amazon and Audible, like, all the time.  I don’t know if it was like, designed to catch my eye all the time or it really was always there when it first came out.   This catchy cover was also the very same one that pushed the book further down the TBR.  It does not represent the true depth of this novel, much like the horrible cover on My Brilliant Friend It’s not ugly, it just made this book look so much fluffier than it really was, like it was full of problems even my white butt would find it hard to care about.  I should have noticed the thousands of stars it got because that many stars don’t lie, and they didn’t let me down now.

Bernadette is a woman who has always been out there a little in terms of her creativity, energy and vision, and doesn’t recover from an emotional setback followed by some miscarriages.  When we meet her, we don’t know all this yet, she just looks like a funny, smart, privileged, agoraphobic stay at home Mom living in a crumbling house and eating takeout dinners nightly with her daughter and rich Microsoft programmer husband.  She plans to go to Antarctica as a reward to her gifted child and starts to unwind further as she is pushed even more past her comfort zone than her life has already done thus far.   She doesn’t spend as much of this novel physically lost as the title would suggest.  I got halfway through and she was still physically with the family.  I could tell that mentally and emotionally she was hanging out on the fringes at times but she didn’t evaporate until 60% through.  And the part I liked about that was she tried to let her daughter know where she was.  As a grownup I don’t feel nearly as accountable to other adults as I do my son.

This was compulsively readable.  I was up hours past my bedtime two nights in a row because of it.  I read it in two nights and I never touched my audio edition.  I don’t think that has ever happened in my history of audible.  It did a few things well:  I liked all the different viewpoints.  I like the depth about why she was so unhappy.  It was more than a privileged woman not getting what she wanted. I liked that her actions were reasonable when told from her perspective but also would cause alarm when her distracted, non mental health trained husband got wind of them.  The characters were believable and the reader could easily see from all of their viewpoints.  I liked the author’s knowledge of the fields discussed and the settings.  Just really well done all around.  The movie is out in a month!

attachments.jpg

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

I have wanted to read Rainbow Rowell for awhile.  Her books look funny, contemporary and fun.  I didn’t realize until the notes at the end that Attachments is her first novel.

A man who is paid to review computer use where he works falls in love with a coworker whose email exchanges he reads with her friend at work.  Rowell’s writing is funny, insightful and sharp. The dialogue between the friends is hilarious, believable and relatable, my having been a young woman talking with friends at work like that not so long ago.  I’m older now so I don’t talk about wanting to be engaged or a mom (check and check…luckily).

My only issue with it was that she really dragged out the main character and the love interest meeting.  I felt that the story could have been shorter and still have been satisfying.  The inevitable meet up is satisfying and dramatic.  I can empathize with how her writer’s brain puzzled it out to make the meetup unexpected and dramatic and fun, and it was all of those things.  I did laundry one day while writing a scene in fits and starts trying to decide where it was going to go to make it unexpected, and I imagine she could have done the same.

Despite this one bit, the very slow burn, I would absolutely read her other work. I have Fangirl and Eleanor & Park.  If I can be as funny and as astute as she is as writer, I’d be happy with that.

Still writing away.  Still participating in my online writing groups.  And still loving my reading!

Comments/likes/shares!

 

 

Advertisements

For the Love of Epistolary Novels

I forgot to mention that January went okay.  It went better emotionally than it can sometimes.  I’m not really sure why. I have been making more of an effort to look at calls for submissions and actually writing something and crossing my fingers.  I figure even if the writing is rejected I can find other homes for it. As long as the writing is happening right now, that’s what I need.  And I need to focus on showing up when all the crippling doubt sets in.  Especially because I have committed myself to writing poetry again which is a total mind-f.  But you’re here for my scintillating perspectives on my reading problem.

Reading Problem #1000: It seems that epistolary novels especially are some sort of drug to me because I binged on them even harder than usual.  I think I have determined their especial binge-tastic appeal.

  1. They have short chapters, which really keep me going into the night. Just two minutes?  Kindle underestimates my reading speed so that’s only like 30 seconds and I definitely could put off sleep for 30 more seconds.  ooh this chapter is a picture.  Only like a page of IM conversation?
  2. Also, conversations are probably my favorite part of books.  Interactions between people over descriptions and long inner monologues.  And when you are doing letters and IMs, which were the main way I held my far away friends and a long distance boyfriend close in college, I think they bring back for me the joy I have had in my own interactions like that in my life.  I had those IMs while falling in love as a young adult.  And while those fallings in love didn’t pan out, they were the stuff of joy when they were happening. Flooded my brain with the happy chemicals. I have stopped liking phone conversations and it’s rare to get one out of me, unless you’re my client.  Or my parents.
  3. Both of these books I review on this post have the slow reveal that I have been hammering out in my own novel and I was reading to see how these authors did it.

I might not have binged as much if I read the novels I had originally intended, but then BookRiot listed out these great modern ones that had been on the TBR forever and that was it.

An Epistolary Novel:

love letters to the dead.jpg

Love Letters to the Dead,  Ava Dellaira

This book is really relevant. It’s about broken families and childhood dreams, trauma and healing as universal experiences.  First loves and relationships moving from childlike idealizing to knowing our most loved people as they really were, flaws and pain and all.

The protagonist is picking up the shards of her life following a family tragedy in the form of letters to tragically deceased famous people.  People who lived their versions of her pain and trauma.  People to whom she never met but could relate.  The answers to the mysteries come at a good pace, the blanks filled in in a satisfying way, and everyone heals.  Slowly and sometimes subtly, but they do.  Not just the broken family but other characters dealing with teenage relationship themes and issues.  She talks about the details of the star’s life that she can relate to and emphasize with.

I thought the incorporating of the celebrities was well done.  It could have been either too loosely connected/relevant or too many details of the celebrities to whom she was writing, but it was neither.    And she gets a chance to heal while many, if not all of the dead celebrities, never got or took that chance.  She gets to grow.  And I love the pure magic of healing wherever I find it.

everything everything.jpg

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

I was almost embarrassed that I am trying to write YA without having read this, especially since it became a movie. A-mazing.

One of my kids accidentally spoiled this on me, but she didn’t really spoil it, because once I knew how the main situation was going to change I focused on how it was revealed.  How did the big twist come about. How did she change as a result?  How did her change make others change?  The whole time I wanted to know how Yoon was going to pull it off.

Other that the writerly part, this is just like YA classic good stuff. A first love.  How people learn to be together and share their vulnerabilities.  All that stuff you cut your serious relationship teeth on.  I don’t want to say too much because any reader of mine knows my attempts at avoiding spoilers.  If there’s like, any other YA aficionado out there who hasn’t read this.  Which there really might not be, especially since it became a movie in 2017.  And I forget it’s not 2018 anymore, other than when I realize I didn’t read any 2018 but I’m getting there.

Next week is two other epistolaries. And they aren’t Pamela and Possession, which is what I originally wanted to do for this post, Possession because I have tried to read it twice and finally got the audio to best the thing (many people whose opinions I respect like this book so I need to win) and I shamefully don’t feel like investing in an old novel right now with Pamela.  I mean, it’s about her trying to avoid getting raped at work.  I just want something less depressing than that right now.  It’s been on the TBR forever because I want to someday read the authors that influenced Jane Austen with Austen in mind.  But there are young adults falling in love in ways I fell in love as a young adult and all that dopamine gets coursing around when I read these.   And I read four books from one BookRiot category before I know it and lose sleep because of it’s appeal.  TBR tackling at its finest.

Comments/likes/shares!

 

 

BookRiot: Award winning authors

My son can’t decide if he thinks my laptop wallpaper is cute or stressful.

Its a kitten either trying not to fall off something or trying to climb on something.  I like the picture because I liked that the cat had gotten itself into something or was about to get itself into something.  I can be like that.  I can’t always be happy just chillin, I have to be making my own entertainment.

Two on a theme again this week:

A book by a female or author of color that won a literary award in 2018

hello universe.jpg

Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly

2018 winner of the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature

Good middle grade novels, especially involving middle schoolers like this one does, always involve a whole heap of uncomfortable awkwardness poured into a relatively unique situation, which is exactly what this book is.  It’s about kids who don’t fit into molds coming together through an almost emergency situation and friendships in common.  And, even better, which is what the market is looking for right now, one of the perspective characters is a deaf girl.  More engendering empathy.    Another child, Virgil, is Latin American, and he isn’t as effusive as the rest of his family.  Another one who talks about how he doesn’t fit in.  And, slight spoiler alert, he has a crush on the deaf girl, which is also excellent. It’s a great kids book and was a quick read for me.  I hope it doesn’t count as like a cheat read because I have some Coretta Scott King award winners on tap for this year.  Although that category specifies children’s or middle grade.  This category doesn’t.  Newbery Medal winners are always worth reading, though, and this could possibly go on the list of what I might share with my son.

How long til black future month.jpg

How Long til Black Future Month, NK Jemisin

Winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for The Stone Sky

Now, possibly Hello Universe could have been a cheat read if I also hadn’t tackled this one.  I have been wanting to read NK Jemisin but I haven’t wanted to commit myself to her science fiction novels.  Even though they have been recommended to me as sci fi/fantasy that isn’t based on white European medieval social structure or heteronormative narratives.  I wanted to taste her work and I am working on my own short stories, so it’s always a good idea to read what the masters are putting out.

I actually read the introduction, which gave me hope as a writer for two reasons:  one, she didn’t come into her writing prime until she was older than I am now, which is good because I am just starting out and I get into this idea that other people got into their glory faster than I would ever hope to.  If there’s even a glory for me to be had in this.  I can’t assume that.  And second, that she used the word sharted, and it wasn’t edited out and it was allowed to stay there as a sign to me that this book was worth reading.  On top of, you know, all her accolades from people who are allowed to give meaningful ones.  She was talking about sharting out science fiction that was more the stuff that white guys churn out to get noticed in a market that wasn’t ready for diverse voices.  In case your shart curiosity was piqued, which mine would have been.

Some of these I really loved, like Red Dirt Witch (one that many others on the reviews enjoyed) Valedictorian, Cuisine des Memoirs, L’Alchimista, and Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath Still Waters.  Some of them got away from me, like science fiction can for me, and I get a little lost.  Maybe because the stuff that is more out there to me isn’t as interesting so my brain stops participating.   It happened with the PKD book.  I wondered if other reviewers had a similar experience and they really didn’t seem to.  The stories that I enjoyed I noticed had more of a human element to them.   They were good, though, fantastical, creative, sharp in its portrayal of race and class.    I think Red Dirt Witch is popular because its about black people seeing the future of the human rights movement and becoming hopeful that the world can change for them.  And not just, you know, a black  person in the white house, but the realities of the riots and protests.

I had this on audio to work through it, but it had more to do with the genre than her writing.  When she really has the page space to spin out her world building I might have to pay harder attention because I imagine it is extensive and cool.

Clearly both of these women are award winning authors in their premises and stories.

I really read too much for the next two posts, so stay tuned.  Still binge reading.

Comments/likes/shares!

Donovan Reads High School Required Reading List

I thought I saw an article on Medium about what kids really should be reading in high school.  Maybe it wasn’t medium, because I can’t find the article now, but it got me thinking about what books I have read that I felt had more important messages to today’s kids than what I had to read, or even worse still, what my husband had to read when he went through high school eleven years before I did.

First, here’s a sample of what I was assigned to read in high school:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Julius Caesar

Romeo and Juliet

The Giver, Lois Lowry

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The Great Gatsby,  F.Scott Fitzgerald

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Mercifully, we were at times allowed to choose from a list, and these are some of what I chose:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Pride and Prejudice (but it honestly was beyond me then), Jane Austen

Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate,  E.L. Doctorow

Book of Daniel,  E.L. Doctorow

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Darkness Visible, William Styron

Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Also I started reading Nero Wolfe novels and Richard Brautigan, both courtesy of my father.

Lots of white people and white people perspectives, lots of heteronormative perspectives, not a lot of empathy gathering understanding from other perspectives.  I would say not a lot of addressing illness and disability, other than The Bell Jar and Darkness Visible, but I read both of those on my own steam and due to an early interest in mental health. And I think any reader of my blog sees titles that I have since revisited, the merits of which I believe I have discussed in the past and will do so again when I tackle more re reads.

Today’s world is full of everyone’s perspectives and they are all important, and I believe heading into the world with some awareness of others perspectives as well as an openness to them is the best start possible.  I found that in college it wasn’t a knowledge of the white canon that helped, it was an openness to other worlds beyond what I had experienced myself.  Which wasn’t a whole lot.

In making this list, my goals are to expose kids to many perspectives, gain empathy, appreciate complexity and develop a healthy skepticism. So what would I assign?

challenger deep.jpg

Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman

There is absolutely more mental health awareness than there was when I was in school. I remember there may have been one kid who had been rumored to have spent two weeks inpatient, but I didn’t know why, and it was all very hush hush.  One kid in the 800 I attended high school with that I heard possibly went. Nowadays, kids can name multiple classmates who have gone inpatient for an acute mental health need.   They cover mental illness in health class.  Kids are more open to talking about what they go through and often let their friends know that they see me.  But this book brings into living color the reality of what a psychotic break is, and what it’s like.  I don’t know what they are like firsthand but I have studied and known/treated people who have had them.  And I believe that people growing up to work with mental health or the public or when making policy decisions.  If I ran the world, this book would be required reading.

homegoing.jpg

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

Like I said when I reviewed this book, it’s important because it talks about those of African descent in our country in more than just the time there was slavery and those trying to escape. Racial issues in our country continue to be forefront and are based on a long history.  One that we can hopefully grow from.  I remember learning about enslavement, and the Civil War, and then Martin Luther King and protests for equal treatment, but this book brings to life what these things meant in real life to real people.  As I listed, I did read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that helped open my fifteen year old mind, but it was chosen from a list and we could not have duplicates in the class. And it was one woman’s story.  Homegoing is the story of many.  Like in the previous selection, I have not experienced these things, but I understood them better when I read this book.  It broadened my mind further, and I have had graduate classes on privilege and diversity.

middlesex.jpg

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Likely I would do excerpts from this one, as it is well written but wordy.  I can see where it would be tedious to teenagers, and I want them to hang in there with the message this one has.  Gender issues are forefront right now, and although the hero of this story is not trans per se, but intersex, it still brings up important points on the meaning of gender.  If I had read something more recently that was about gender issues it could replace this one, but I think empathy and more understanding toward people who are not cis would be helpful.

dune.jpg

Dune, Frank Herbert

Okay, a white dude writing sci-fi.  I loved Dune, by the way, but I am adding it here because it is my experience that young minds who are getting into a world full of information through which they need to make informed decisions need to appreciate the complexity that comes with power and political issues.   There are always numerous facets to why something went the way it did or why it is the way it is, and young (and older minds  too I guess) tend to simplify issues and take stances based on limited views, or lacking the appreciation that their view has limitations and doesn’t mean the same to someone else who may need/want something different.

ghostland.jpg

Ghostland, An American History of Haunted Places, Colin Dickey

I love a ghost story, so why would I recommend a book that kills our fundamental American ghost stories?  Because it talks about facts and how facts have changed based on our viewpoints as Americans.  To be skeptical of stories that seem fundamental. This talks about the darker side of our collective history and sometimes ways of thinking.  The side that we don’t get tested on.  Most, if not all of the places/stories mentioned in this insightful read are stories I already knew about from TV shows and this book presented the other side to them, showing me more about who we are as people than a good scary story.  So think about why a story exists and is presented like it is.

Also, I would like kids to read one book that is super intimidating due to its length, just to learn that it isn’t as bad as it seems.  Anna Karenina was one of those that I was intimidated by, and then increasingly gratified when I was making it through and enjoying it.  I surprised myself.  And I think that’s a valuable experience in creating a lifelong reader and the beginnings of an intelligent consumer of knowledge.

I have not read Freshwater, The Power, or Born a Crime, but they might be added to a sequel on this post after I read them.  And I also have to say I think the current YA market does a great job in meeting these goals as well, all sorts of issues and perspectives communicated through stories.

I also need a moment to say how much I hated that my high school constantly chose Shakespeare for the drama requirement.  One of my friends reminded me that the class begged our junior year English teacher to do something different, hence Waiting for Godot.  Shakespeare was base entertainment.  It would be like kids in high school four hundred odd years from now having to read Fifty Shades.

Agree/disagree?

Comments/likes/shares!

Mythological Figures Who Get Personalities

All right, so I had to admit at the end of last year that I hadn’t read any 2018 books and 2019, with a different stage of noveling, would afford me the chance to pick up on what I left off.  All the book covers that I ignored, even though they were in my face.

Did I mention I finished the third draft of my novel and it will be sent out?  And now I need to work on getting my other stuff out there?  So I shouldn’t be binge reading, but here we are.

A Book of Mythology or Folklore:

circe.jpg

Circe, Madeline Miller

Characters in mythology and fairytales are one dimensional creatures.  They are only meant to be vehicles in stories, creating explanations for the natural world.  This leaves them ripe for re-tellings where their stories, personalities, and vulnerabilities can be fleshed out.  They can have reasons other than jealousy and control.  They can be people.  Circe is made to stand out with empathy, something she is mocked for among the other immortals with whom she struggles to belong, but make her endlessly appealing to the reader.

I had to peek at Wikipedia to polish up on the Circe from Greek mythology.  I did some humanities in college, reading bits of the Aeneid, and I can recognize elements of the Odyssey and the Iliad.  I like that her story is filled in, about how she went from being born of immortals to a witch on an island, how she was scapegoated and rejected, and how some of the animals on her island were her friends, not just men transformed into pigs.  And Wikipedia says ‘displeased her’ and in the book they were men intending to rape her, and maybe this is in the original stories, but if it is not, I commend this change. I love humanizing a historical/mythological/fairy tale character.  To show how they may have possibly been misunderstood.  Women in that time and place, even immortal ones, needed to wrestle and cage any freedom that wandered into their path.  I can see how this is timely with women gaining more power in this age.  We will root for our sisters working on the same thing across the ages.  Fortunately now we don’t have to have potions and incantations to do it.

Other than enjoying the story, because I love me a witch with a decent character arc, I liked the pacing changes of this one.  Circe is immortal and will have huge inconsequential stretches of time and then other focused periods of interest. I liked how she could speed it up and then slow it down, although sometimes she would be slowing down something I really wanted her to speed up, but that was my own discomfort, not her lack of artistry.  Circe was still finding herself in the longer stretches of time and her solitude.  She was still figuring out her place in the world where she seemed to be born into all the gray areas.  But when time needed to slow down, Miller did it in a way that wasn’t obvious, but that I noticed when I started to worm with the intensity and wished I could just find out what was going to happen in the scene.

The good thing about my reading multiple books for each category, other than it being an excuse to binge read when I should be writing, is that often I have books I have owned forever that fit these categories, so two birds with one stone.  This one I have had almost two years now, waiting for its chance:

song of achilles.jpg

Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

Again, Miller turns one dimensional historical figures human under her astute pen.   This is about Achilles but through the viewpoint of his long time companion, Patroclus.  Achilles is much more than a warrior in this book.  I forget these boys are supposed to be raised in Sparta, which my education has told me was mostly about churning out warriors.  Which seems to be the opposite of empathic creatures.  But although Achilles is aware that his main function is to be a warrior, he is many other things, the warrior piece only being apparent when he goes to fight in the Trojan War.  And even then he struggles with the trauma of war and doesn’t want to kill unless he has to.   Even then he sees others as whole people rather than shadows only to be categorized based on if they gratify or frustrate his needs, which often happens when men are raised only to be weapons.   He is loyal to his one lover, does not take others, and assures that Patroclus is treated as an equal to him, even though he is not.  And Patroclus is empathic to Achilles as well, respecting him and loving him apart from, and before he came into, his glory.

These qualities made the men appealing and I rooted for them all the way and I didn’t read Wikipedia to know exactly how it would end.  The prophesy of Achilles’ dying after he kills Hector is discussed way before the end, but I wanted to see him win up to that point.  However, I thought on multiple occasions how there was no template in these men’s lives to be so kind and loving, to know how to treat each other and be in a healthy, monogamous relationship since they were teens.  Keeping a healthy monogamous relationship alive through the greater part of your life isn’t only work but insight and skill, and I don’t know where these guys would have gained the skills they show in how they treat each other.  Neither one’s parents had a healthy marriage based on equal power footing; neither of them were made via a consensual encounter.  But they don’t know how to be angry with each other in a world that runs on anger and power.  Maybe it is only in the fact they know themselves to be pawns, despite the power that Achilles has, and some ways they betrayed one another were inevitable and not personal, and they both understood that.  Maybe Achilles’ mother,  as formidable and controlling as she seems to Patroclus, helped him to become the human, multidimensional man that he is. These are famous warriors, and in the book they are empathic toward slave women and loyal to one another above all else.

I may think these men’s personalities are a bit implausible based on their contexts, but I don’t know if any other book could have hooked me through a retelling of the Trojan War.  I knew some of it but I don’t so much care about stories of war, as any reader of mine can probably tell.  But I was hooked on this all the way through because of the strong character/human element.  Kudos to Madeline Miller.  I can see why she’s one of the big writers out there.

I realized near the end of filling this category that I also desperately need to read American Gods, which was put on my radar more than ten years ago and is a popular show, and I have wondered multiple times when it would be my time to read it.  I even recommended it to a friend who read it and is now telling me to read it.  The time must be coming.

Comments/likes/shares!

A Classic and long-time TBR Lister

And then the snow and bitter cold trapped us all inside.

I loved the bright moon after the storm, the new snow lit up like the day, but I didn’t love scraping off the inside of my windshield as my car reluctantly warmed itself the next morning.  And the sweet little fishtail as I turned out of work across an icy patch of snow, too cold for the road salt to do anything about it.  Intractable in the cold.

So I made a mistake googling (we’ve all done it) and I read a book that I believed counted as a book by a journalist, one of BookRiot’s categories.  After I was fully committed, subsequent googling revealed that the book’s author was not, in fact, a journalist.

This mistake revealed one of the few pitfalls of book list tackling. There was a hot second in there that I was like, damn, I read this book for nothing.  For a few moments I actually thought that maybe I had wasted my time reading because I couldn’t tick off a category on a list!

All my mindfulness training (and years of an ex who complained that if I wasn’t going to marry him I was a total waste of time) rebelled here and said how dare you think that reading a book you have meant to read for like a billion years that’s on a billion other book lists is a waste of time because it does not fit one particular list.  One particular outcome in a world of infinite outcomes.

in cold blood.jpg

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

In my defense, this is a serialized true story, so it would be a logical inference that the writer could possibly be a journalist, but the late Truman Capote was a novelist, actor, short story writer, and playwright.

There are a number of things worth noting in this classic work.  One, it wasn’t just about a murder, but about America  in the late 50’s, early 60’s, a portrait of Kansas and the Midwest.  The murdered family was in many ways the All American family, especially Mr. Clutter and his youngest daughter Nancy.  Pillars of the community, wealthy by their own hard work, churchgoing, example setters, humble.  Nancy was involved with everything and loved by everyone.  Mr. Clutter was fair and hard working, sympathetic to his ill wife, supportive of his oldest daughter’s marriages.  They embodied the values of the time.

And it wasn’t just the family that provided this portrait. The murderers, both in their own family histories and in the descriptions of their cross country travels together, what it was like to be in the state prison and in the justice system at that time, all painted a vivid picture of America at that point in history.  Even the psychological reports of the men reminded me of the still strongly Freudian interpretations of the times.  Twelve year old boys were allowed to drive the family car to take girls to dances, the death penalty was on in Kansas, young troubled boys could still be sent away to reform schools and abused there at young ages (kids can get out of home placements still, but at least in NY its a very long process for only the ones who truly cannot manage in the outside world, and then they are heavily regulated).

Also noteworthy was the work that went into this.  The care and detail researched and put together a narrative that was not only a mystery but also a psychological portrait. It’s fascinating to trace the factors that lead up to behaviors that step so far out of the norm.  The men had different reasons, different vulnerabilities that led them to commit the crimes they did.  One was abused from a broken family, one was from an intact family but struggled with impulse control before a car accident, which compounded the impulsivity and judgment with a traumatic brain injury.  But the book isn’t just about them.  It is about them and their context, the country at the time.

I only had this on audio and I spent hours lost in the narration of this story, at first a mystery, and then a link to the murderers, how they were caught and then their eventual execution. It’s listed among classics, quintessential reads, books some struggled to finish.

I’ve been finding myself reading two from each of the BookRiot categories this year. I’m back to seeking out books by real journalists.  I am looking at fiction rather than true crime at this point, especially because there’s already a true crime category.  I must be googling correctly now because I’ve come up with Steig Larsson and Laura Lippman.  I have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet.  Back when it came out I was reading books another different boyfriend wanted me to read (I spent too much of my youth with stupid boyfriends) and then it was a classics binge and I’m not always so great at reading the latest thing anyway.  And then The New Yorker slammed it kind of hard, which further complicates my motivation for an almost seven hundred page novel that only sounded somewhat appealing to begin with.  But it’s taunted me on and off as something I really should read if I want to consider myself fancy.

And we all want to consider ourselves fancy.

Laura Lippman is more appealing, honestly.

In noveling news, I finished another draft of my novel, reworking the ending a little better.  Which now there’s like one other part that needs revising again, but it’s small, and I will be sending it out for a critique in the next few weeks.  This is energizing news for me.   I don’t know where to direct my fiction writing now.  I have to do my prompt for this month’s short story, because I’m going into my third year of that.  I have a few ideas of stories for Wattpad but they need a little more research and, you know, to actually get written.    I might write up an idea I have had for a few years now in a short and toss it up there to get started.  See how I do.

I miss having a Snow Read.  Just a little.  An epic novel to get caught up in. But I’m doing a lot of reading for BookRiot and this two on a theme thing is fun.  I missed reading, but I still need to be writing.   I’ve already finished seven books this year and it’s only three weeks in.  Like my boss says when I am seeing too many clients, that may not be sustainable if I want to write.  I’d consider quitting my job but I’d go batty at home alone all day.

Comments/likes/shares!

Reading Harder: Alternate Histories

The New Year inspired me to do some TBR tackling, like it always does.

Since the BookRiot list came out a few weeks ago I have been planning my 2019 reading.  I am always delighted when something on my TBR also qualifies for a BookRiot category as well, and I had two old backlist hangers on that qualified for the alternate history requirement.

I’m finding that I love stories set at different points of history.  Phillippa Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers series got me through new motherhood.  Nero Wolfe novels sustained me through late high school, college, and grad school when I only read fiction on breaks.

Futuristic dystopian/cli-fi books make me nervous, because of course anything can happen.  Given my lack of trust in the current Administration to protect the globe or anything that isn’t profitable nearly within this moment, scary futuristic books seem all too likely.  I’m game for historical dystopia, though.  Bring it.

But alternate history…it already happened a certain way so we can just play with ideas about if a moment was different, how would we be living now?  Both of the books in this post (I’m supposed to be working on my novel, not reading two books in a week, I need rehab) are set in times when assassinations of wartime US presidents (FDR and Lincoln) happened before they could leave their mark and each discusses the points that diverge from the facts that we learn today.  With each war having a different outcome, it also, in both books, means different things for racism in our country.

An Alternate History Book

the man in the high castle.jpg

The Man In the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

This was on the TBR long before Netflix decided to make it into something.  I don’t even remember how it originally crept into my awareness.  I think at one point I thought that having read a PKD novel would have made me cool.

The Axis powers, Germany, Japan, and Italy won the Second World War, rather than the Allied powers, owing largely to an early assassination of FDR.  Essentially, this assassination is to blame for why America wasn’t strong enough to defeat Hitler and his allied countries and why in the novel the country is divided between German and Japanese territory, with Italy kind of the forgotten stepchild of the thing.

Nazi Germany is still the bully in the setting and in the plot, Imperial Japan is strong enough with their culture consuming their part of the US, which is under totalitarian rule.  Racism is rampant, there are definite classes based on skin color and ancestry, even with a brief mention of ethnic cleansing/experimentation still happening in Africa by the hands of the Germans, and it is still a dangerous thing to be Jewish.  I would say that even if Germany won the war I doubt the ethnic cleansing would continue today, but then I have to remember that the book was written and set in the early 60’s.  It’s nearly 60 years old as it is.  But when would it have stopped?

There are some parts of this story that are interesting, like the focus on the Japanese buying relics of Americana from the days before they took over.  Authentic Mickey Mouse watches are a valuable collectors item, as well as guns.  The Japanese I Ching features heavily as the closest thing I can determine as a religion and the characters rely on it to make decisions.  And as in any totalitarian rule there is a subversive book circulating  that speculates on if the Allied powers had won the war.  The book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, then predicts the fall of the Soviet Union, something that happens in real life decades later.

However, this book spins out a little nutty near the end, makes some reaches, goes off on character revelations and plot turns that I had to check up with on Wikipedia (whom I donate to every Christmas btw because of my reading needs) and I missed what the point of some of them were.  I don’t know how Netflix is planning to handle these.  Wiki notes that Dick also used the I-Ching to make plot decisions…interesting.   This book was both fascinating and intense.  Tiring.  Exhausting.  It needed my full attention. It has way more to do with setting and the plot of political intrigue than it does about characters.  It’s weird in some ways,but that’s sci-fi.  It’s pardoned as a part of the genre.

And the TV series looks like even more of a ride.  Likely not knitting TV.

underground airlines.jpg

Underground Airlines, Ben Winters

I was hesitant to jump into another alternate history book over the weekend, but it was on my TBR, and it went with the theme, and I was knitting a sock more than I was working on my novel, so I went for it.

In this one, Lincoln is assassinated early, like FDR’s early assassination in PKD.  The Civil War never happened, and instead the states compromise on slavery, with four states, the Hard Four, slavery is still legal (and of course regulated, but legal nonetheless) and white people continue to get rich on the backs of those left with no choice, Persons Bound by Labor.  Racism is more obvious in the other states than it would be if these Hard Four weren’t holding out on profiting by slave labor, even though other nations have not allowed the US to play with them anymore because slavery persists.

An escaped slave is obligated to work as a bounty hunter for the government.  Although racism persists, often freed people and policemen don’t want to help in returning escaped slaves, so the main character enters another bondage of sorts (he even has a tracker in his neck) to find those who have escaped from bondage.  He doesn’t have to return them himself, but he’s complicated Of course his story is interwoven with his own trauma, his story fleshing out the world of slavery.  It’s fascinating, his past intersecting with the hard truths of rooting out those who made it out like he did.  The plot twists are sweet, and he discovers the assignment that he is working on is of course more than it seems, and he ends up having to infiltrate the Hard Four.

I think I liked this one more than The Man in the High Castle because it has more of a human element to it.  The Man in The High Castle is so strongly plot driven,  hard core philosophical Sci-Fi.  Living in a totalitarian society and having your nation completely transformed by war in your lifetime would have repercussions and change who you are, but the plot doesn’t deal with that. Underground Airlines had me from the beginning and I rode it through in a short amount of time.

Both of these books are about racism and class.  And how when the true leaders can’t lead, we descend into dystopia.  BookRiot posted some of their own suggestions on this topic and they stated that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was also an alternate history, in that magic somehow returns to Britain.  I have read and reviewed it here but I never thought of it as an alternate history.  Magic doesn’t change Britain into a dystopia. Still loved it.  What a great read.  Even though it was too intense to revisit on Netflix.

I have started editing my novel in preparation to have it professionally critiqued, just easing myself back into it.  I need to ease off the reading now. It’s kind of happening.  But it’s so much easier on the emotions to blissfully knit and immerse myself in a book.

The cold weather has swooped into my part of the world.  My dog and car and I aren’t exactly thrilled, but we can go play on the lake if it’s cold long enough.

Comments/likes/shares!