I get real compulsive about reading…e-mails. “Taro” sent me an invite to join GoodReads.com so “we could see each other’s books”, compare reviews, add friends, meet people and explore. I compulsively invited more than half my e-mail address book and pasted every review you might have read on these pages onto GoodReads. When I finally got back to Taro, thanking him for e-mailing me I found out that his sister-in-law is EMILY Bushman @earthlink.net, not Eve. (All along I thought that he had gotten my e-mail from a book review column.) But, to give me some credit, Taro went to The Signal’s website, read articles I had written and is still considered “a friend” of mine on GoodReads.
So there you have it, in a nutshell, or by a nut as you may prefer, my compulsive reading behavior. But haven’t you ever discovered a book by a new author or read a new genre and, because you found the writing so persuasive, craved more? Here are some of my highly rated, albeit compulsive, cravings:
Vacations Done Better: When choosing to visit to New Orleans I knew nothing save for my memory of Legoland’s sculpture of the famed Bourbon Street. There had to be more than popular culture to discover during the convention that brought me there. I always have my triple A tour books but, wanting to get an insider’s view, I also hunt down books by local authors to read before I arrive. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, had won the Pulitzer posthumously for the author. The tale, of a bizarre young man teetering on the edge of obscurity and drunkenness gave me yet another diaphanous layer of New Orleans. Next, when traveling to Alaska, I read all I could find from mystery writers Sue Henry and Dana Stabenow, loving the tales of dog sled racing and murderous competitors the most. When a female Iditarod racer joined our Alaskan cruise I already knew how the dogs were handled, why they live to run and had a feeling of accomplishment that I had understood far more than I would have if I hadn’t done any reading. Of early Alaska and its inhabitants I also found Life in Alaska by Mary Wynne Lamb helpful.
Same locale, same author: Modern writer, Anita Shreve, has set three of her novels in the same house at different times: Fortune’s Rocks, Sea Glass and The Pilot’s Wife. Each is a fairly romantic, easy to read novel, with stories involving a large beach house on the New Hampshire coast. She has written over a dozen books but none that intertwine place and time as these three. And, though not a series as each book is independent, the writing style and haunting location makes them just as compulsive reading as a series.
Austen leads to Wharton: Reading every book by Jane Austen in my twenties led me to Edith Wharton in my thirties. Even though they were decades and countries apart, Wharton’s language and style, as well as female-centered themes, are similar. I’ve since tried the many popular variations of Jane Austenesque books; none compared as well as Wharton. Start with the classics Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence and then move on to The House of Mirth, Summer, A Mother’s Recompense, The Reef, Madame De Treymes and Custom of the Country. Of course that would only be if you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Finding Spirituality: Spirituality for me can be simply defined as making important connections with other human beings and nature; a kind of honorable owing to both. I was first brought to this realization by the books by Ricky Hoyt (revricky.com). Room for An Elephant: Stories for the Child in Your Life, spiritual stories to teach children important lessons and Good Thinking, “spiritual foundations for the head and the heart” that explores questions on theology for adults. Both gave me great pause and gently nudged me to further journey. I then read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and Unitarian minister Robert Fulghum’s classic, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, both completely different but equally eye-opening. Now I try harder to look up and really see the Oak trees when I jog past them and smile at the drivers that don’t run me down in my pursuits. At a recent Betty Ferguson Foundation meeting, Jane Bettencourt-Soto strongly recommended 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey. She said that she liked the spiritual book as it would help anyone coping with the loss of a loved one that might be concerned about heaven. And, what we all want in our spiritual quests, it gave her peace.
Biographies to Fiction: I never had any interest in reading the books by Amy Tan or Stephen King. But biographies, and especially those of writers, were keen to me. What I didn’t expect was to be romanced into reading their work afterwards. Tan and King are completely different and both dauntingly prolific. I can’t say I’ve read everything by either (nor do I desire to) but I have enjoyed several tastes of their differing genres. I liked The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Joy Luck Club, The Hundred Secret Senses and The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Tan and Lisey’s Story, Dolores Claiborne, Thinner, Dreamcatcher, Cell and some of The Dark Tower series by King. I discovered that trying something I assumed wasn’t for me is, more often than naught, worth the effort.
Tolstoy to Dostoevsky: Reading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina had been a journey for me the first and the last time I read it and I eagerly wanted to read more Russian translations. When our Russian exchange student arrived to live with us ten years ago, she introduced me to the poetry and prose of Mikhail Lermentov and Alexander Pushkin. Moving from there I really prided myself on getting through Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov. Why does getting through a “hard read”, like any Dostoevsky, feel so rewarding? Is it the beauty of a job well done by writer and reader? Or, is it just the reward of feeling the beginnings of mastering a genre?
War novels disguised as Romance: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk led me in with a war-torn romance at the start. Then, thrust into the trials of digging and surviving tunnels, for more than the next third of the book, I was actually quite reluctant to leave the soldiers behind and return to the romance. From there I had to read All Quiet on the Western Front and The Killer Angels, both sans romance. When I visited Gettysburg with my family I borrowed a audio tour tape from our library. I learned that remarkably told histories can evoke connectiveness to the past and, that there is plenty of powerful literature out there that doesn’t require strong female characters, or romance, to further the story.
In two weeks I will be covering what some of the Santa Clarita Valley book clubs, and beyond, are reading. If you would like to share some of what your book clubs have read or just share what your club might be doing differently, please e-mail me. I think you know I will read anything and pass it along to readers citywide…