Posts Tagged ‘Books’


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.

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 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! 🙂 )

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! 🙂

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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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! 🙂 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. 🙂 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. 🙂 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! 😉

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I’m very excited to be rolling out my brand-new author photos today! For me, getting a picture taken is always stressful–and I bet it is for almost everyone!  I mean, even supermodels probably worry about bad hair days or whether they overindulged on the champagne and caviar last night… 🙂

And then there’s the picking of the perfect image!  The obsessive poring over the various shots, trying to decide which one makes me seem….Image

Well, that’s where things get confusing.  What exactly are readers looking for, when they look at author photos?  What do they hope to see?  Do they want to see intelligence?  Professionalism?  Humor?  Warmth?  Glitzy glamor?  (Oh, I hope it’s not glamor…:) )

Or…in the end, do readers really care about the author photos at all?  Is this more an exercise in personal vanity than anything else?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t pay much attention to author photos.  I don’t spend much time exploring the personal lives of writers–even my favorite ones.  Maybe especially my favorite ones! 

When I truly adore a book, I want to forget about the author entirely.  I want the characters to live and breathe independently–as if they were born, not written.  I don’t want to be thinking…oh, Margaret Mitchell decided to have Scarlett make a dress out of the drapes because Mitchell once had a cousin who did that.  I want to think…of course Scarlett made a dress out of the drapes, because that’s what fearless, think-outside-the-box survivors like my pal Scarlett always do!  🙂

What about you?  Do you like to glimpse the puppet master?  Does it spoil Oz for you to think about the little guy behind the curtain manipulating the great Wizard?  Or does glimpsing the real person behind the pages add a new, richer dimension to your appreciation of a book? Image

What, in the end, do you look for in an author photo?  Because if you want glitz, I have a rhinestone tiara and a pink boa I could dig out for the next one! 🙂 I hope you’ll give me your insights–and I’ll choose one poster to win a copy of WILD FOR THE SHERIFF, as thanks!



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As Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” 

How’s that for the official stamp of approval? 🙂  You can see how little respect he’d have for me if I ignored him!

So, though I have a deadline coming up, and it’s better not to even talk about the state of the laundry room, I really think I need to read today.  😉

I have shelves overflowing with books I haven’t read yet, and books I long to reread.  I have a wishlist at Amazon so long it’s embarrassing.  And the library could build a new wing on my late fees.  And yet, like a true addict, I’m still always on the hunt for something new and exciting.

I’m assuming that, since you’re reading a writer’s blog, you’re pretty much the same!

So when I stop by to say hi here each mid-week, I’ll be talking about what I’m reading right now–and how I’m liking it.  I hope you’ll swing by whenever you can and let me know what you’re reading, too!

Here’s this week’s tally:

Just started: 

Roundhouse, by Louise Erdrich.  So many people have recommended this to me that I finally broke down and got it.  Can’t wait to see if it catches me…

Still chewing away at:

Drood, by Dan Simmons.  This Victorian-era tale about Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens is beautifully written, slow-paced (which fits those authors perfectly and doesn’t bother me one bit), but I keep postponing it.  Maybe that’s because it’s a bit dark, and I’m craving something lighter and easier these days?

Just finished:

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  Wow!  If you like mysteries, and you’re one of the few people who have been resisting this one, let me add my name to the chorus!  This is a fun, weird, twisty book.  It’s a bit dark, too, actually, but not quite as heavy as the Simmons.  Those of you who have read it, I’d love to hear what you think about the ending.  I’m dying to know if my reaction was as weird as my daughter seemed to think! 😉

The Gettysburg Vampire, by Susan Blexrud.  From my Kindle, this Civil War-time-travel romance by my writer buddy Susan was a real treat.  If you like historical romance–and, of course, sexy vampires–I think you’ll love this one.  Very emotional (I love a strong hero dealing with lots of emotional baggage, and Malcolm has that times ten).  Plus, Susan really knows her time and place!  She layers her writing with so much atmosphere you can smell the steam in the air as the ghost train thunders by.

Calling my name from the shelf: 

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloane.  Actually, I have this on Audible, and it’s up next for my walking amusement.  I hear great things!

Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen.  A friend loaned me this one after I finished The Girl Who Chased the Moon.  Gosh, she gets great covers, doesn’t she?  I don’t know why I didn’t discover this lovely writer sooner! 

window with booksOkay…that’s my list!  Now I hope you’ll share, too!  What am I missing?  I love all genres–and even nonfiction!  Do you have any undiscovered (or long-resisted) nuggets of gold to add to my basket?





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When I’m under a lot of stress, I use my entertainment hours (if I have any) to calm myself down.

When I’m stressed out and want to read a book, I almost always pick something dramatic and full of tension and suspense. It’s as if I want to remind myself that there are far worse problems out there than mine….like zombies, monsters,serial killers, madmen and ghosts. I especially love a writer who shows me an average person taking on the Big Bad Things and winning. If they can conquer the werewolf, then surely I can conquer my …insert problem here…

But when I decide to cope with my stress by watching a movie, I am completely the opposite. I want sweetness and light. I mean seriously sweet. Red velvet cake with sprinkles sweet. Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream sweet. Musicals and cute kids and sparkly costumes and flower-filled fairy fields and satin wedding dresses.

Taken together, those stress-relieving techniques can make me look pretty schizophrenic. Take yesterday, for instance. I sat in the family room with a few of my favorite people. By my side was my Dan Simmons horror novel, “Summer of Night,” in which a group of pre-teen boys ride their bikes to a showdown with the Forces of Evil. And on the TV was my favorite sweet-treat musical, “The Slipper and the Rose,” in which Richard Chamberlain’s Prince sings and dances to win Cinderella’s heart.

How about you? How do you calm down when the world is pressing in a little too hard? Do you go for the wild ride for total distraction? Or do you cuddle up to some warm fuzzies? I’d love to hear what works for you!

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I think maybe being a writer has made me a bad reader.

I still love to read, of course—nothing short of a brain transplant will ever change that. But I don’t read the same way I used to. I’m afraid I no longer read the way “normal” readers do.

First of all, some insecure part of my psyche is always weighing the book I’m reading against the books I write. Deep inside, I’m whining something like, “Rats…I couldn’t ever think of something this clever!” or “Arghghghgh! Why can’t I write like this?”

But every writer I know does that. We learn to tune that annoying little voice right out.

What really worries me is that, because of my years as a writer, I focus on all the wrong things in a book. I am afraid that I’ve forgotten how to just sit back and enjoy the magic.

Here’s what makes me think so: The other night, my daughter and I went to see Agatha Christie’s play, “The Mousetrap.” My son-in-law had a role—he was terrific in the part of silly Mr. Paravicini—and we had a wonderful time.

But on the way home, I began thinking about the plot, and I began saying things like, “Didn’t Christie use too much coincidence, though? Why was she staying in the hotel, in the first place? Why was he there, too? I just can’t buy that much coincidence!”

Was I wrong in my criticism? Maybe not, technically. The play does rely heavily on coincidence, something all writing teachers, editors and contest judges tell us is a huge no-no.

But does that mean the play isn’t well written? Does that mean the play isn’t good? Obviously not! As Agatha Christie’s own site tells us, this is the longest-running play in the world. In the world! Since it opened on the West End in 1952, it has never been out of production.

Clearly something powerful happens when audiences watch this play. They are entranced, and they don’t give a darn about whether Christie followed the so-called writing “rules.”

The same is true, for instance, with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It’s filled with adverbs, what the writing teachers like to call “LY” words. “LY” words are lazy writing. “LY” words are literary dead weight. “LY” words must be hunted down like zombies and have their heads lopped off.

And yet, all the “LY” dead weight in the world can’t sink a Harry Potter book. I bet most readers don’t even notice them, and if they do, they couldn’t care less.

So, bottom line is…I’m afraid I might have worked so hard to learn the “craft” of my profession that I’ve forgotten how to enjoy the magic of it. No one jumps onto Amazon, eager to post a review that let you know “This book has perfect punctuation!!!!” No one calls up a friend and says, “OMG! This writer hasn’t used a single LY word!!!!”

It’s a lot easier to pick apart a book and see where it might have broken some rules than it is to pinpoint what the author did right. And, in truth, it’s easier to weed out your “LY” words than it is to seed in some enchantment.

What about you? Do Rowling’s “ly” words bother you? What about Christie’s coincidences? Do your bookshelves (or Kindle lists) hold some story that is mocked by snobs but still warms your heart? Have you ever had to defend a beloved book from the naysayers?

I have a feeling that, in a duel between the rule-maker and the magic-maker, the magician wins every time!

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