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OK, I don’t buy that entirely, but I do believe in “garbage in, garbage out,” in most things.

That’s why I try not to read crap. I mean, no one tries to read crap, but the older I get the less guilt I feel for starting a book and not finishing it.

What I’m saying is…books have a great power over me. For this reason, I expect a lot from them, as I would from any encounter that will suck up, what 6, 10, even 12 hours–for a doorstopper.

I ask a lot from a read, which generally has to tick 2 or more of these boxes: subject matter I want to know more about; believable characters; language that I envy.

Truth is, I have become an old man (as far as reading habits). I am that crotchety guy at the bookstore who wants to get his history, his humanity, and his poetry all in one tome.

Is this asking too much of one of my fave genres, historical fiction? Of course, as soon as you say, “genre,” literary types are thinking, well you might get your history and your humanity, but the language won’t sing. On the other hand, historical fiction buffs don’t want their story bogged down by MFA-grad-style poetic language acrobatics. Walking a tightrope indeed!

Am I oversimplifying. Of course. Are there novels that tick all the boxes? Yes. Since we’re talking historical fiction (in which I’m up to my eyeballs, as I’m working on a historical novel manuscript), I’ll throw All the Light We Cannot See out there as pretty stellar. In the WWII vein, I’d also add the less recent Snow Falling on Cedars. What do you think?

This weekend I hope to finish Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, which ticks two of my boxes, and that’s OK.

Let’s chat books. What are you reading? How many of your boxes does it tick? Is it informing what you’re writing?

 

 

 

 

25 thoughts on “We are what we read

  1. Since I write in the horror genre, I know this all too well. I feel similarly crotchety, yelling at books to get off my lawn, because I feel like the absolute flood of genre fiction over the past 5-10 years has stressed “story is king” and that today’s reader is more forgiving of weak prose as long as the plot moves.

    I’m not.

    Currently reading “Songs of a Dead Dreamer” by Thomas Ligotti. Great horror, and equally top notch (even poetic) prose. I love finding the rare books that prove your point that you can have it both ways.

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    1. I have to admit I’ve never even tried horror. That sounds like one I should! I say if we keep fighting the good fight by insisting on good plot and good prose (in the same book!), maybe we can turn the tide.

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      1. Definitely look into some of the older (1920’s era) “weird” and gothic horror. Like H.P. Lovecraft. Nothing too gory or extreme. Very moody with beautifully written prose.

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  2. I totally get that! There’s definitely a comfort in the re-read. Librarians would probably be able to give you comparative suggestions. For some reason, I never think to ask my librarians (because I have little kids, I spend a lot of time in the library!) for book suggestions for me. I ask for my kids. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

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  3. I finished Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and, although it’s a contemporary from the depression, not a historical, I think it would satisfy all your check boxes for the modern reader. The language, the historical perspective, and the characterization is all there. I will warn you that the language is extreme and offensive, the violence blunt and swift but … apparently that is the way Hem thought things were at the time, which is a historical note in itself.

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    1. I haven’t read that one, or much of Hemingway, outside a few short stories in college and _The Old Man and the Sea_, which he wrote far later. Would provide an interesting historical perspective of the Depression, which usually conjures for me Dust Bowl images. Thanks for the suggestion and for stopping by. Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend, now that it’s starting to feel a little like spring!

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  4. I had the habit of finishing any book I start, no matter how bad it is. Now, when I look back, I feel guilty of wasting my time. The book would be so dreadful, but I used to struggle myself to the end.

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  5. I love historical books of any kind. The last three books I read are Soul of a Crow by Abbie Williams, The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict, and The Girl From the Train by Irma Joubert. My favorite? The Girl From the Train – I wish I could see what all of the characters are up to now. It is a book that pulled me in and placed me in the middle of all the action. The ending was just perfect too. 🙂 BTW – I’m still one who has a hard time putting down a book even if I’m not enjoying it. I agree, life is too short to spend our precious time reading something that doesn’t interest us as there are so many excellent books out there.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions! I would imagine The Girl From the Train is a fave pic for book clubs–seems like a lot to enjoy (part coming-of-age, part love story, part WWII saga). And I like coming at such a weighty time in history through the eyes of a child. (I thought Doerr did that well in All the Light We Cannot See.) Isn’t that the best feeling, wanting to catch up with characters long after you’ve finished a book?! There are just soooo many books I want to read. I need an extra 24 hours in my day! Have a great one–and thanks for sharing on Twitter. I’m so slow to social media–just joined FB last year (now that everyone’s jumping ship)!

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  6. I have read most of John Grisham’s books…the last one I read was “The Whistler”…But, lately I have steered away from fiction…I have been listening to business/self improvement podcasts because I currently work about 60-70 hours/week and I just don’t have time to read..audiobooks require too much concentration for me…I just like to catch random ideas while doing other things…But, I love reading when I have time…

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    1. I hear you about finding the time to fit in a book. I’m slow to get through a novel because I can only read a few pages at a time–usually between my kids’ activities. But I’m an escapist, so I couldn’t live without reading fiction. Your business podcast-listening has been paying off on your blog. Your most recent post was great, and I keep thinking about it with respect to my own blog. Thanks for stopping by here!

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