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Prueba1675

I have a problem.

I can’t get rid of any books, no matter how crowded and chaotic my shelves have become.

I’m not sure why. Yes, I grew up with thousands of books–as seen here, in this picture of me reading to my daddy in our library, my favorite room in the house.in library with daddy

And yet, my dearest, most simpatico buddy, who has been my best friend since I was four years old and came from a very similar book-oriented family, doesn’t struggle with this. Once I said to her, “Oh, wouldn’t you just love to own all the Jane Austen books in beautiful hardcover editions?” But she simply shook her head. “Not really,” she said calmly. “You can always get those from the library.”

And she’s right, of course. Because of her saner attitude, her house is clean and neat and tidy, and I envy the heck out of it.

Mine is a mess. library bookstore

My office, particularly, is out of control right now, and if I could just free up some space on the shelves to store other things…But I can’t seem to make the tough decisions.

bookcase
Every day, I wake up determined to weed out. Every day, I come in, stare at the shelves, and walk away again, unable to part with any book, no matter how old or new, read or unread, paperback or hard, illustrated or not, classic or quirky.

I know some of you must have conquered this problem! I’d be so grateful if you’d share! What guidelines do you use? Is there some rule I could apply that would make the amputations easier?

I’d truly love to know what the key is to letting go.

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I finished my manuscript, and the joy of a little free time is making me giddy! But even though I’ve given myself a full week off, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to read everything on my list and in my stacks. I have books due back at the library any minute. I have new ones, bought with my Mother’s Day gift certificates, gleaming at me from their pile on the desk. I have an Amazon wish list about eight pages long. πŸ˜‰ Seriously.

K with Age of Innocence 2 So what do I do? I pick up a book I’ve read maybe half a dozen times before. Edith Wharton’s THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is so sad, so beautifully written, so fascinating in its exploration of how savage social expectations can be, that I never, ever tire of it!

The new books will have to wait a little longer.

In fact, I have two writers I re-read frequently. Rex Stout, who wrote the Nero Wolfe mysteries, is the author I choose if I’m unhappy, or lonely, or worried. Nero Wolfe shelfArchie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe are the greatest of all buddy teams, and together there’s nothing they can’t handle. They always inspire me to believe I can handle my problems, too.

Guess that’s why I have a whole shelf of extremely well worn Stout books.

I don’t turn to Edith Wharton, my other staple, unless I’m feeling strong. Seriously strong–I’m talking about “I am woman. Hear me roar” strong. Her books are gorgeous, but they’ll take out your heart and stomp that sucker flat, as Lewis Grizzard so memorably put it. If I’m already emotionally fragile in any way, I give Wharton a wide berth. Hey–since I have her in hand now, I guess that means finishing a manuscript is empowering, right? πŸ˜‰

window with booksHow about you? Are you always moving forward, conquering new books, checking them off your to-be-read lists? Or do you sometimes snuggle up with an old favorite, preferring to spend time with old (character) friends?

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Today is the official Day of Joy recognized by every writer on the face of the earth, I would be willing to bet. Today is the day after I finally submitted my overdue manuscript. My book is complete. (Until my brilliant editor finds the goof-ups and guides me toward revisions that will make it GOOD book!).

I am a free woman.

redman photo 82 side k pref head vert typa

But that first day of freedom, after weeks and weeks, sometimes months and months, of enslavement, is always strange. I come creeping out of my deadline cave, hunched and blinking at the daylight, asking everyone, “What year is it?” And then, just when I thought I would run skipping all over my world, screaming, “FREEDOM! BRING ON THE FUN!” I am oddly paralyzed. I’ve forgotten how to do anything but write. I’ve lost the knack of feeling anything but guilty, pressed and terrified that my words won’t be good enough.

That’s when a quiet day of reading can provide the perfect bridge. The quiet place between deadline Hell and (temporary) freedom Heaven.

I’ve got so many books stacked up I hardly know which one to select. Here are the ones I’ve started with:

penelopiad coverTHE PENELOPIAD, by Margaret Atwood.
This one will probably win, because it’s a very cool retelling of the Penelope/Odysseus myth, only this time from Penelope’s POV. I’ve begun it…and Penelope is such a wry, honest voice that I don’t see how I can switch to something else till I’ve heard what she has to say. Plus, this is a library book, and it’s due soon.
πŸ™‚

zelda book
Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD, by Therese Anne Fowler.
No, wait! This one might win, because I just saw THE GREAT GATSBY, and it put me in the mood!
I loved the Luhrmann version of Gatsby, though I have some great friends who disagree with me…almost violently! πŸ™‚ If you saw it, I’d love to hear what you thought!
Shakespeare and Dickens booksSHAKESPEARE’S TREMOR AND ORWELL’S COUGH, The Medical Lives of Famous Writers, by John J. Ross, M.D.
This is one I can pick at, a chapter at a time, so it’ll probably just wander around with me for a few weeks, filling in odd moments. But doesn’t it sound cool? It explores the “medical mysteries” of some famous and fascinating writers.

DICKENS AND THE DAUGHTER OF THE HOUSE, by Hilary M. Schor.
This one probably appeals only to lit-geeks, because it explores the role of the daughter in Dickens novels. However, because I *am* a lit-geek, it’s made the short list.

babysitting ShoshieOr, I could just go out on the back porch and watch my son’s puppy play in the yard while I get started on my next book. We’re puppy-sitting for a few days, and the little rascal provided a wonderful excuse to write outside as I polished the last few chapters. I love my office setup, but there’s nothing like birdsong and sunshine to provide the inspiration a romance writer needs!

What about you? When you finish a long and difficult task, what do you do to celebrate?

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I haven’t come even close to reading what was on my TBR pile this week. (I didn’t need those last two words. This is the case EVERY week! πŸ™‚ )

In fact, all I ever do, it seems, is ADD TO the pile. Here’s how it happened…tell me if any of this sounds familiar! πŸ™‚

His Highness and I rearranged some furniture in various rooms, which meant moving some books, which meant I actually browsed one of the bookcases I don’t usually get to. Oh, dear. LOOK at all these wonderful books! I pulled out Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Northrop Frye’s “Anatomy of Criticism,” and Mary Stewart’s “This Rough Magic.” I felt quite proud of my restraint. It could have been 30 instead of three!

Then, my daughter and I walked to Barnes and Noble, to be virtuous and get some exercise. B&N was the reward for the virtue. But would it have been much of a reward if we hadn’t bought anything? So I got one of the Kate Atkinson books I’d missed. I loved her “Case Histories,” and I was thrilled to see these newer ones. Again, I was proud of myself. It could have been a hundred.

DSC02741 Another thing…the RITA award finalists were announced, this past Tuesday. Some of the books looked soooo good, but I hadn’t ever read them! Well, I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be studying the best in my craft, always growing, always improving. So I had to buy a few and download them to my Kindle. So proud of myself…didn’t buy ALL the ones I wanted. Just about four.

Later that night, in another fit of virtue, I realized that I’m not using my Audible account as much as I should. I got it so that I’d have plenty of books on tape to amuse me while I take my daily walks. But I’ve found that my favorite diversion is corny oldies, which sweep me along to their beats, and remind me of how much fun it was to be young and fit. So…needed to put the Audible account on hold, be virtuous, save a few pennies, right? Except that I had some credits there that I must use before I initiated the hold. So I picked up “The Queen of Bedlam” by Robert McCammon and Phillip Pullman’s “Grimm Tales for Young and Old.” Just the two. Just to save a few pennies.

Then, while I was researching a lecture for one of my Brit Lit classes, I got an itch to read a new biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, “Z” by Terese Anne Fowler. (I know…not Brit lit, but still…one thing leads to another…)

Photo by Chris Chan

Photo by Chris Chan

My book budget being totally blown, I decided to try the library. Oops! Remember those books I checked out in a dazed semi-orgy a few weeks ago…but haven’t read? OVERDUE. When I signed in online, I discovered that once again I’m featured on a big, shameful WANTED poster in the library lobby.

WANTED: Bookaholic With Absolutely No Restraint. Ten books overdue. Fines in double digits. Approach With Caution! Considered impractical, absent-minded, dreamy and very dangerous.

So…yeah. Ten added to the pile, ten overdue and costing me big bucks, all while honestly trying to be so, so good.

See what I mean? There are just too many books.

Sound familiar?

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Prueba1675
This has been a week for socializing more than reading, which has been a lot of fun. I’m about 75% introvert, but that other 25% really loves to get together with like-minded people…often other writers! I’ve had out-of-town writer buddies stopping by (something about Florida’s balmy temps while their hometowns are still getting snow flurries, perhaps?), and so I’ve been lunching, brunching, coffee-ing and dinnering like a fiend. I’ve loved every minute.

However, even during weeks like this, I read a little. I couldn’t get to sleep without reading at least a few pages of something wonderful. Here’s what I played with this week:

STUMBLED ONTO AND BREEZED THROUGH, UNEXPECTEDLY: ELLEN FOSTER, by Kaye Gibbons. I hadn’t ever heard of this little gem, though apparently it’s one of the Oprah Book Club picks. I saw it at the library, and for some reason I can’t explain, it called to me. It came out in 1987, so it’s not new, and it’s not exactly a happy read, but I loved it. The story is told by an eleven-year-old girl named Ellen Foster, and it could all by itself provide the basis for a master class in the art of voice. She’s brave, unsentimental, and unique. I won’t forget her soon.

books reading wolf gibbonsGOT SIDETRACKED BY: THE KANDY-COLORED TANGERINE-FLAKE STREAMLINE BABY, by Tom Wolfe. I wasn’t anywhere nearly cool enough to read Wolfe when I was younger, but isn’t it weird how your tastes can evolve? Because I’m excited about the upcoming HBO movie about Phil Spector, I decided to read Wolfe’s essay, “The First Tycoon of Teen,” written about Spector when he was only 23. All I can say is…wow. Strange, brilliant, stylish. Now I have to read the rest! This, too, could form a master class in writing. Except I’d want to title that class, “Great Stuff You Could Do With Style if You Were A Genius, Which You Aren’t.” Or…”Don’t Try This At Home.” πŸ™‚

FINALLY GETTING INTO: GARDEN SPELLS, by Sarah Addison Allen. I’m probably not past page twenty, but I love it already. I understand not everyone likes magical realism (where trees throw apples over fences, and neighbors know you’ll need a breath mint long before the hunky neighbor unexpectedly drops by), but I really do.

It’s tricky, isn’t it, this matter of personal taste? So inexplicable, and yet so powerful. Take the one single issue of “paranormal,” for instance. I’m fine with it. Unless I’m not. I love Sookie Stackhouse, for instance, but was lukewarm about Jim Butcher, who is obviously brilliant. Why? I can’t put my finger on it…so how on earth is a writer to know what will work?

I even have “hot” words…words that, if I read them on the jacket blurbs, will make me put the book down like a hot potato. Some of the hot words, for me, are “espionage,” “arms dealer,” “Vietnam,” and “Mafia.” Okay, you might think, she’s just a sheltered little priss who doesn’t like disturbing topics. πŸ™‚ And that’s not entirely untrue. But then how do you account for some of my weirder “tingle” words, the words that, if I read them on jacket blurbs, will make me hug the book and squee? “Tingle” words include “plague,” “psychopath,” “Bedlam,” and “Civil War.” If I get “hypnotically enigmatic” and “hauntingly evocative” in the same blurb, I might as well kiss my money goodbye.

And then there are the abrupt about-faces I can do if the writer somehow transcends his “hot” word. I tend to avoid “religion,” AND “1930s,” and yet I was obsessed with Susan Howatch’s series about British clergymen in the 1930s. Sometimes it even goes the other way around–I’m a fanatic about anything Tudor, and yet, in spite of a dozen enthusiastic recommendations, I can’t bring myself to read WOLF HALL.

So…what’s a writer to do? I guess the moral of the story is you have to write what you like, because, in the end, there is positively no guarantee of pleasing anyone else.

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For the past couple of weeks, most of my reading time has gone into judging the RITA awards. For those of you who aren’t romance writers, that may not mean much. But the RITA is like the Oscar for those of us who do! πŸ™‚ The Romance Writers of America holds the contest each year, and the awards are handed out at the national conference in the summer.

Judging is hard work, but it’s fun–and being part of honoring the best in our genre is pretty exciting. This year, the writing in the entries sent to me was, overall, of very high quality. Of course, some of the stories and characters really stood out–but that’s the part I can’t share! I will, as always, be watching for the list of finalists to see if anything I judged made the cut!

FINISHED: ROUND HOUSE, by Louise Erdrich. Wow. Just as powerful as everyone promised it would be! I may be about to embark on an author binge. You know what I mean, I’m sure. Get excited by one book, scour the bookstores and the libraries for everything else the author wrote, read, read, read until your eyes are crossed, your soul fed, and your palate ready for something different. πŸ™‚ I had my first author binge when I discovered Jane Austen in middle school. Even now, finding a new binge-worthy author is almost as exciting as falling in love!

STILL CHEWING ON: DROOD by Dan Simmons still sits on the end table, unfinished. I tell everyone how good it is, and I mean it. But it’s just too heavy (not usually a problem for me) and too dark (sometimes a problem for me).

UP NEXT: GARDEN SPELLS, by Sarah Allen Addison. I would have read it before ROUND HOUSE, except that I couldn’t find it. πŸ™‚ It turned up neatly beneath the end table, where I’d placed it to protect it from the cat hair.

Elizabeth Gordon The Turned-Intos illustrationJUST BOUGHT: At a new antique mall in town, I discovered a darling old children’s book called THE TURNED-INTOS, by Elizabeth Gordon. Best thing about it–the illustrations by Janet Laura Scott. I casually collect wonderful children’s illustrations, and this one is a gem!

DRACULA, by Bram Stoker. If I ever read the whole book, it was ages and ages ago. My daughter, who often turns me onto great new/old things :), listened to it recently on Audible, and she says it’s fantastic, so I’m going to add it to the pile. The tall, tall pile…
Good luck making it to the top after all these years, Bram! πŸ˜‰

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