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The Bibliophile is Behind in Her Reading

Yes, I’m a bad, bad blogger and I’ve neglected this site for a long time. Okay, a very, long time. No need to rub it in. But I write about the Minnesota Vikings over at the Daily Norseman and that has really divided my time. It’s a funny thing, but a really lousy season (and the continuing Vikings stadium drama) is surprisingly demanding. Turns out bad football seasons are an endless source of material–emotionally draining, soul-sucking material, but material nonetheless. And all that terribly good source material has distracted me from telling you about how I’ve already fallen horribly behind in a New Year’s Suggestion–I don’t like resolutions, they’re something passed by the United Nations that countries promptly ignore.

While looking at my overflowing bookcase it occurred to me that my affection for Hulu has been seriously detrimental to my reading. The books kept piling up, but I wasn’t flipping through them nearly as quickly. Seeing the backlog, I had to…stop getting books. Well, okay, it was more like I seriously slowed up on buying books. Mostly.

Something had to be done. All those books stacked up on and around and next to my bookshelf seemed to be shaming me. So, as a New Year’s Suggestion, I decided to try to read a book a week.

Right now February is nearly over and that New Year’s Suggestion has atrophied and is close to death. Something has to be done.

While my affection for Hulu is definitely part of the problem, another reason for my snail pace was that I just didn’t like the book I was reading. I felt like I should like the book because the setting was interesting and (it was a historical novel) well-researched with vivid period details. However, I’ve been in enough doomed relationships to know that arguing for the way things should be when it comes to preference, is a waste of time. Sometimes you just don’t like a book despite everything in its favor. Sometimes you’re just not that into a book.

This is a difficult thing for me because I get hooked on a premise and, if it isn’t grabbing me, I feel dumb for giving up on it. But I’m reading novels for entertainment, not studying for a test or pouring over them looking for the cure for cancer–I just want to be entertained by a good story. So, if the book isn’t entertaining, why am I wasting my time on it?

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, maybe I’m the only one. But here’s how I’m trying to get back on track with my reading.

  • Put the boring book down. Yeah, it’s pretty elementary, but I thought I’d mention it just the same because it’s something I have to remind myself to do. There’s a whole world of books out there and only so much time to read, there’s no reason to waste it on dull reading material. With the rise of self-publishing and the increased competition for the fewer and fewer literate members of the general public, there are a lot of books being published and a lot of them really shouldn’t have been published. Sometimes it has very little to do with the book itself, I’ll find I’m just not in the mood for a particular book at that time and will come back to it later. Other times, well, sometimes the book just isn’t that good. Give it a rest and try it again later, read something else in the meantime.
  • Go with a tried and true author. I really enjoy finding new authors to read, but sometimes you just want to read a book by an author you trust. This is especially true when it’s an author who has an ongoing series with characters you like, then it feels like reconnecting with good friends. Here are some of my go-to authors: Will Thomas, Victoria Thompson, Colin Cotterill, Elizabeth Peters, and, a new favorite, C.S. Graham. Oh, and I can’t forget Mary Stewart, one of the pioneers of romantic suspense. She practically created the genre.
  • Look forward to new books. It’s good to have something to look forward to and it can help me clear through some reading material. Normally, with authors I really like, I try not to stay current with the series so I know I have one of their books on hand. This method doesn’t always work. I’ve been waiting for more than a year for another installment of Will Thomas‘ excellent Barker and Llewelyn series. I held that book in reserve for much longer than that. Fortunately, according a post from Thomas on Facebook, there’s a new novel coming soon and I can’t wait. And then there was the problem of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. I blundered into their highly entertaining series as soon as it came out and I’m getting cranky with them for making me wait a year for another book–sometimes I just need to hear about the adventures of a heavily armed woman and her librarian archivist partner. All my grudges against the Ministry will be forgotten when The Janus Affair, second book in the series, is in my hands. Also, congratulations to Ballantine and Morris because Phoenix Rising, the first book in their series, was Finalist for Best Science Fiction of 2011 on Goodreads.com and winner of the 2011 Airship Award for best written steampunk.
  • Read paperbacks instead of hardcover novels. Even if I don’t have the time to just sit and read for hours on end, I tend to read more if I bring books with me and can read even a few pages at a time throughout the day when I’m waiting. For that, I prefer paperbacks because they don’t make my purse as heavy. Now, that point is moot if you have a nice, light e-reader, but if not, having a light paperback instead of a hefty hardcover can make a difference in whether or not you feel like bringing your book with you.

And there you have my plan (at least for the moment) for getting back on track in my reading. I may not make my goal of a book-a-week in 2012, I may not even be remotely close, but I’ll be doing better than I’m doing right now. But what do you think? What are your tips for finding time to read in your busy life? Oh, and if you have a good book recommendation, do tell! I can quit any time this book addiction lets me.

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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Books, Uncategorized

 

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Comfort Food for the Bibliophile

I’m staring down a perfect storm of blah this February. Not only did my football team have a lousy season, but their divisional rival is in the Super Bowl. It’s one of the snowiest winters I have ever seen, with drifts that just keep growing—so I promise myself that I won’t leave the house until May. I can’t keep that promise, but the fact that I make it at all is a sign of how fed up I’m getting with winter. Oh, and, not to be left out of the gloom storm, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. That holiday stung me badly two years ago when I was dumped a mere 12 days before Valentine’s Day and left with nothing but my broken heart and the non-refundable ticket that I had purchased so I could see the guy who had dumped me…for Valentine’s Day.

So, with all the doldrums and blah-ness going on, I have decided this is an excellent time to ignore reality and read a good book.

For me, a good mystery is like comfort food, it hits the spot and satisfies my craving. Sometimes I want to branch out and read mysteries by authors I haven’t read before, but when I want a book that won’t disappoint, I turn to books by my tried and true authors. And, I can guarantee myself books by my favorite authors because I stockpile them for just such an occasion. For authors I really like, I try to avoid being completely caught up on their series so that when I need a good mystery by a particular author I don’t have to wait a couple months for his or her next book to come out.

In honor of my comfort food theme, I’ll list books with a food selection. Seems to me that if you need some deep winter comfort, then you might as well go all out.

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander. This fourth book (five in the series) in Alexander’s series of mysteries featuring Lady Emily, takes place in Constantinople during the Victorian age of the British Empire. In the three books prior to this one, Lady Emily has had to content herself to solve murders as a meddling amateur, but now, accompanied by her new husband, she’s an official agent of the British Empire. Her investigations promise to lead her into the lavish world of the Sultan’s harem and extreme danger. Who says the Victorian’s didn’t know how to have a good time? Alexander has become one of my favorites because she manages to make me feel like I learned something new and interesting about Victorian culture without it feeling like a lecture and without sacrificing good storytelling to do so. Snacking suggestion: I think this jaunt to the Orient calls for tea, Turkish delight, and baklava.

Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill. Dr. Siri Paiboun is once again raising some geriatric hell in Cotterill’s fifth book (seven books in the series) about Laos’ National Coroner. It’s the 1970s, disco is taking the rest of the world by storm, while in Laos the new communist government is trying to keep things under control—but they probably don’t know that their National Coroner, Siri, is conducting an exorcism on a possessed pogo stick and preparing for his wedding. It would likely only embarrass the young communist government to find out that their National Coroner is the reincarnation of a powerful Hmong shaman. What I like about this series is that, for as hokey as the idea might seem that this coroner, a man of science, becomes the reincarnation of a powerful shaman and talks to the dead to help solve their mysteries, Cotterill somehow makes it work. He writes about the country of Laos and its people with humor and compassion as they adjust to changes in their government and world. Snacking suggestion: Although not a Laotian dish, Laos is just across the river from Thailand, so I’m craving pad Thai and spring rolls—maybe some iced coffee too.

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall. India’s portly sleuth, Vish Puri returns in Hall’s second book (two in the series). Vish Puri (“Chubby” to his friends and family), is India’s Most Private Investigator, a man who spends most of his days vetting potential spouses for wealthy Indian families, but every so often a unique case comes along that taxes Puri and his team of peculiarly-named professionals. I like how Hall’s protagonist bemoans the erosion of traditional India and Indian values at the hands of modern society and technology, all while he uses modern society and technology to solve his cases and try to uphold traditional Indian values. And, Hall writes as if he genuinely loves India, you can feel the heavy, humid air of the monsoon, smell the saffron, and see the vivid colors of the countryside in his writing. Snacking suggestion: In honor of Chubby, I think samosas and a mango lassi are in order.

Well, you know how I’m going to ride out the winter doldrums and why I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on the treadmill and doing Pilates, samosas will sneak up on you. If you have a favorite author and food pairing to share, I’d love to hear it. One can never have too many good books. Happy hibernating!

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Books

 

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The Bibliophile’s Reading Resolutions

My bookshelf is stuffed. It is, in fact, overflowing. I’m not sure, but there is probably a 12-Step group to address my mystery addiction. However, I’m not looking for a cure so much as bookshelf equilibrium.

I think my main bookshelf problem is that I tend to automatically reach for the authors I’m familiar with so I know I’ll be getting a good story and won’t spend a lot of time on books that turn out to be duds. To this end, I also don’t believe in compulsively finishing books I don’t like. Seriously, when I’m reading mysteries I’m reading for entertainment, if I’m not entertained then that kind of defeats the purpose. Life is too short and my bookshelf is too stuffed.

But I really like discovering new (new to me) mystery authors. There is a sense of discovery for me when reading books written by authors I haven’t read before. And, frequently, that has paid off. This last year I have discovered Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody mysteries, Chris Ewan and the Good Thief’s Guide books, Rhys Bowen and both her Molly Murphy series and the Her Royal Spyness series. But there have been some duds too. For example, I have no idea how Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak Alaska mysteries have won an Edgar award because they seem more like a book-length diatribe about Alaskan law and natural resources loosely interspersed with a very bleak mystery. And I’m still not sure how I feel about Nicola Upson’s book An Expert in Murder. The mystery seemed a little farfetched unless the murderer is very evil, cracked, and theatrical—however, she conveniently supplies a murderer who is just that.

So, despite the ups and downs, I’m resolving to read more books by authors I haven’t read before—for the sake of my bookshelf if nothing else. That’s the plan, anyway. And, if you would like to read along with me or give me any input on how you liked books by these authors, that would be swell too.

Here’s a list of a couple of the authors I’m planning on working up my courage to take a chance on this year.

Christopher Fowler. I don’t know how it is that I hadn’t discovered him sooner, but in just the last month I have become aware of his mystery series featuring John May and Arthur Bryant of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. May and Bryant are “detection’s oddest—and oldest—couple” who refuse promotion and simply want to solve peculiar crimes. I’m always looking for stories with interesting characters, characters who you want to actually spend your time with, and May and Bryant just might be the ticket. Oh, and according to the back of the book, Fowler is known for employing quirky humor in his books. I’m a big fan of quirky humor. Books in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series:  Full Dark House (2004), The Water Room (2006), Seventy-Seven Clocks (2005), Ten Second Staircase (2006), White Corridor (2007), The Victoria Vanishes (2008), Bryant & May On the Loose (2009).

Carl Hiaasen. A recommendation from my dad, Hiaasen’s stories are set in south Florida where, apparently, people are crazy. At least, I’m guessing they’re crazy based on the teasers on the backs of the books. Every description of Hiaasen’s stories that I have read suggests these books are hilarious. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that the author who helped define Florida noir puts plenty of vitamin C into his mysteries, something I’ll need this winter. Some of his books for adults: Skinny Dip, Nature Girl, Strip Tease, Sick Puppy, Tourist Season.

Patrick F. McManus. I grew up reading some of his comical works like The Night the Bear Ate Gumba and Rubber Legs and White Tail Hairs, but now the guy who made me laugh at mountain man Rancid Crabtree has branched out into mystery writing. His sleuth is a Sheriff Bo Tully of Blight County, Idaho who has to put up with an ornery father as well as crime. I made a half-hearted attempt to read one of these mysteries, but I don’t think I was in the right mood, or I was expecting it to be more like his other works. This year, I will have to give Bo Tully another try. Bo Tully mysteries: The Blight Way: A Sheriff Bo Tully Mystery (2006), Avalanche (2007), The Double-Jack Murders (2009).

Laura Joh Rowland. I made a half-hearted attempt to start reading one of her books right before Thanksgiving one year, but with all the bustle of cooking and cleaning and company arriving and then leaving, I just didn’t have the time to devote to the book for it to really grab me. But I would like to because her series is set in 17th century Japan and I like the idea of reading about the protagonist’s (samurai Sano Ichiro) quest to solve murders in the midst of the intrigues of the shogun’s court. And, as a plus, there are 14 books in the series so far. First five books in the Sano Ichiro series: Shinju (1996), Bundori (1997), The Way of the Traitor (1997), The Concubine’s Tattoo (2000), The Samurai’s Wife (2001)

Qiu Xiaolong. My dad is the one who got me started reading Colin Cotterill’s series featuring the irascible Dr. Siri Paiboun. So, I have hopes that this series will be good too. However, dad has not been an infallible judge of what I will like in the past (I didn’t like The Sultan’s Seal at all), so it is hard to place absolute trust his recommendations. In this series Chief Inspector Chen tries to stamp out crime in his corner of China, occasionally even with the help of the Communist Party. Books in the Inspector Chen Cao series: Death of a Red Heroine (2003), A Loyal Character Dancer (2003), When Red is Black (2005), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), The Mao Case (2009).

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle

 

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