Instead of writing about Script Frenzy, because in the last two weeks my writing has gone off the rails, I am talking about books and reading today! My whole life has revolved around books. I’m sure I couldn't live without them. I’m also interested in the synergy between the activities of reading and writing. Perhaps talking about reading might help me get back on track.
Experienced writers often make a point of advising beginning writers to read, LOTS. It is advice that is not hard for me to follow! I expected reading would play a prominent role as a leisure activity in my retirement. On the contrary, I’m finding that retirement is not so leisurely after all. I have thrown myself into the world of writing with great enthusiasm, only to find that there are not any more hours in the day than there were when I worked full-time as a librarian. There are many days when the only time I can find for reading is at bedtime when I’m already having a hard time staying awake – just as I used to do before I retired. But that’s not the focus for today, so I will put that particular conundrum into the goal-setting basket or slip it into my next attempt to come up with a schedule that I can actually follow.
I have several different categories of reading that I try to mesh with everything else I do. They are sometimes in conflict with each other, so I often find myself with several books on the go at the same time.
I joined a book club eight years ago. It's a very rewarding activity, requiring me to read a specified book every month. As a result I have read many books that I would never have chosen on my own and have enjoyed most of them. We meet at the library to discuss the book chosen by one of the members. That member leads the discussion and provides refreshments. We always have a good time and the discussions are lively. The books are usually fiction, but we have also read some memoirs. The books are fairly current, but at least once a year we choose to read something older, often a classic novel. These have included Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, and The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence.
The last book I chose for book club was Ian McEwan’s Atonement. We also watched the movie that night and discussed both afterwards over cake and ice cream. Last month we read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, written by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows, who completed the book after her aunt became too ill to finish it. Because this book is about a writer trying to find something she could be excited to write about and also about a group of people who meet to discuss books, it's an excellent choice for both writers and book clubs. This month’s selection is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Similar in theme to Angela’s Ashes, the book is not as well written. Walls is not as good a writer as Frank McCourt, but her memoir is a compelling read nevertheless.
Every few months I go online to eHarlequin and order a selection of books. I read romances for enjoyment, but also it is a form of research into one genre of writing that I have attempted. My favourite line is SuperRomance, and at one time I thought one of my current works in progress would fit there. I’m no longer so sure about that, but I continue to read from that line and others to remain familiar with what is currently being accepted. C.J. Carmichael and Donna Alward are in my latest order. I read romance between book club selections and titles from the next two categories.
Research for Writing
My most recent work in progress, which is in the roughest of all possible first drafts (in fact it is in several first drafts that represent several attempts to write the novel in different ways), is a story set in the nineteen fifties. That decade is very familiar to me, but I discovered as I wrote that I would need to do a lot of research. Currently, I am reading novels set and/or written in the Fifties, as well as nonfiction titles for information. I am reading a collection of articles published in Maclean’s, called Canada and the Fifties: Canada’s Golden Decade. One example is “Going Steady: Is it Ruining our Teenagers?” from the issue of January 3, 1959.
I saw the movie Revolutionary Road recently, and have started reading the novel which was written in about 1958. I am re-reading On Chesil Beach, a novella by Ian McEwan set in the early sixties, about a newlywed couple who were at university in the late nineteen fifties. I have a list of Canadian novels written during that time, some of which I studied at university, which I intend to re-read.
My To-Be-Read List
The largest category of all. It includes books I’ve bought, and others I’ve heard about. My favourite novelists keep writing books! Ian McEwan (Solar), Margaret Atwood (Year of the Flood), etc. etc. Recently I attended Anthony Bidulka’s launch of his latest Russell Quant mystery Date with a Sheesha, set in Saskatoon and Dubai. Quant is a gay private detective who leads a fascinating and dangerous life solving crimes that lead him to many destinations around the world. The latest titles by Louise Penny and Gail Bowen are on that list. Oh, and I can’t forget the "Canada Reads" selections! Or the winners of prestigious awards. Too many books, so little time.
Yann Martel will be a presenter at the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw in July. I would like to read his new, long-awaited novel, Beatrice and Virgil before then. The list will grow longer when the complete program is announced.
I thought this would be a short blog post, but .... (Don’t get me started talking about books!)
What are you reading these days? Do you read different books for specific reasons? Can you recommend novels written in or about the Fifties that I should know about?