Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading Light

Island Murders by Wanda Canada is a story that grabs you by the throat on page one and keeps on choking. Dead bodies pile up like magazines on the back of the toilet. I lost count—six dead in the first half of the book? Plus one house fire and one attempted house fire, and shots fired in the main character’s back yard. Before I even get to know people, they’re dead. Hey, I get it—people are getting killed; who has time for characterization?

Murder mysteries are not my favorite books, but I read them sometimes. I never relate to the main character. Me? I’d be cowering somewhere with my eyes closed, afraid of finding yet another body—or being the next body.

I think murder mysteries are the snacks of the literary world. They’re usually not good for a full meal, like Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, or Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. But sometimes you don’t want a full meal. You just want a little nosh, a nibble. And that’s when a murder mystery or a romance or Janet Evanovich’s humor comes in. Sometimes it’s just right. Years ago when we lived near a small branch library I got tired of trying to select interesting books from their small assortment and began reading alphabetically by author. Haphazard, yes, but I discovered some great books that way.

Time to ‘fess up. What do you like to read when you’re not reading War and Peace or Anna Karenina? What are your go-to “snacks”?

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Settlers vs. Pioneers

As a child I put Barbie dolls in a shoebox/Conestoga wagon and took them for outdoor prairie adventures à la the “Little House” books. I love the pioneer era in history and have a collection of women’s diaries of the trip west and other histories of that time.

So it was a huge shock when it finally dawned on me that I was a settler, not a pioneer.

All these years I had this image of myself as a pioneer, even though I married at 19, dragged my feet about moving, and anchored myself with overstuffed bookcases. One day I looked back at the high school Valerie and realized she thought she would have a glamorous life. Not lamb-chops-and-little-black-dresses glamour, but a more bohemian big-city-adventures-and-literary-people glamour.

Yet here I am in my South Carolina home with a few awards and publishing credits, still trying to sell my first novel. I’m no pioneer—I’m about as traditional as they come, with kids, grandkids, my “Barbie dream kitchen” home. Did I become a settler because of the way I lived? Or was I always a settler and didn’t know it?

I guess I don’t have to be a pioneer to love reading Cathy Luchetti’s history books, and I don’t have to be a bounty hunter to enjoy Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I didn’t have to be an Elvis fan to read “Tender” by Mark Childress, which seemed like a thinly-disguised biography of The King. I read all sorts of books. I just love to read.

Do you like to read? What are your favorite books? Let me know—I’m open to suggestions. And if you always wished for a Pioneer Barbie (but they didn’t create one until 1995), I want to know that, too!