Friday, July 22, 2011

What Do You Read?

As a writer, I read to write, to learn, to be inspired by other writers.  It is the rare author who can make me laugh or capture my emotions.  Sometimes a year will pass before I find a single book that will move me.  Here are a few of those that that I have read recently (in no particular order):
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
This book is filled with case studies of how individuals brought about change in business and medical environments and schools.  Although it is geared toward the business reader, the principles are applicable to any situation.  The authors describe how to effect change by using the symbols of an Elephant, its Rider, and their Path.  I dislike using symbolism and found it easier to understand if I thought of the Elephant as emotion and intuition, the Rider as intellect and reason, and the Path as the environment.  The authors challenge us to use all three areas to effect change.  I found many of the illustrations helpful in understanding the psychological process, but others were too “big business,” too far outside of my personal framework, to have meaning for me.  I was ready to dismiss this book as simplistic self-help after reading the first two chapters, but as the author’s rational expanded, I found myself intrigued by all the elements that played a part in change.  The case studies were mostly interesting and made the book worth reading simply for the stories of institutional and personal change.  The psychological references were easy to understand even for someone like me who hates psychology.  And by the end, I felt inspired to write which made the book well worth the time I spent reading it.
The Mountain Between Us: A Novel
This book is another that inspired me.  It was one of those I could not put down so I was reading it long after my bedtime.  The end confused me, so I reread it in the morning.  It still confused me in the morning, but ending aside, the book is worth reading.  I don’t want to give the plot away, so this is a very general review. A man and a woman with different backgrounds and desires are stuck in a debilitating and challenging situation.  Charles Martin’s writing is always good, but as excellent as in his first two books (which should have always been one): 
Down Where My Love Lives: The Dead Don't Dance/Maggie (The Awakening Series 2-in-1)
As these two people work through the life and death situation in which they are placed, hope is almost lost but never fully extinguished.  This is a book about hope and I hope that someone out there can explain my problem with the ending!
Next, I am reading two books on the craft of writing:
Letters to a Young Novelist
This is a year-long, chapter-a-month, project for the creative writing workshop I lead.  As the title indicates, it is a book of letters covering aspects of fiction writing such as persuasion, style, narration, time, and reality.  The book challenges us to think deeply about how and why we write.  In the first chapter, the author uses the tapeworm to explain the need to write and he does so in such depth, that I will always associate my need to write with that worm.
The second book:
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
This book came from John Gardner’s college and writing conference lectures and covers the aesthetics of writing in the first part and then goes on to cover such practical areas as common errors, technique, and plotting.  At the end are a few pages of exercises.  I rarely exercise based on the suggestions in books, but these look as though they may be helpful.  I am currently reading the first part of the book and have discovered that a thorough background in literature is imperative for complete understanding.  If you haven’t yet read the classics, especially the classics of American literature, you should read those before opening this book.  The author uses of both ancient and modern literature to illustrate his points from Aristotle to Dostoevsky to Sherwood Anderson and both as  simple illustrations and as studies of the point being conveyed.  So read your literature before reading The Art of Fiction.
I may have more to say about both of these books after I finish reading them.
Just to throw in an unusual book for me, here’s a book of poetry.  I rarely read poetry and have never bought a book, but I read one poem online and I was smitten.  Some of the poems disturbed me because they reflect a dark period in the poet’s life.  Several of them inspired me and I cannot stop thinking about the one that motivated me to purchase the book.
Here’s a link to that poem:  Every Riven Thing
Every Riven Thing: Poems
Finally, I am reading a slew of detective stories.  I don’t know why, but this is the year of the detective for me.  Here’s the list.  Some are better than others, but they’re all good for a summer read.
Shoofly Pie & Chop Shop: 2 Bugman Novels in 1
This is a continuing series which the main character is a forensic entomologist who solves crimes based on insect evidence and has trouble relating to the human species.  This series has turned me into an insect observer.  The only book I didn’t like one was one in which the protagonist was forced to choose between two women.  The author wrote two different endings on his website and made the readers choose.  The result was revealed in the next novel.  I’m all for interaction, but let the writer write a complete novel.  I would have gladly accepted that the man could not make a decision at that time and that it would be resolved in a subsequent offering. 
Empire of Lies (Otto Penzler Book)
This is an odd sort of detective story with a protagonist who is confused, at the very least.  I found that it forced me to think about how men think and process information.  However, as an action detective story, it was sorely lacking.  The plot was not believable, the protagonist too introspective, and I was glad when the book ended.  I read one of his other books last year and it was a gritty crime novel; This book has to be an aberration.  Read his other novels, but skip this one.
Bad Things Happen
This is a fast-paced novel where the prime suspect/investigator is a literary editor who once had a different profession.  In fact, everything you think is one way, turns out to be another in this novel.   An easy summer read.
The Hidden Assassins
This is a true detective novel set in Spain.  The chief detective is presented with a body and then a bomb goes off.  How are they related?  Is it a terrorist threat?  Just who is the terrorist.  Wilson explores with workings of the detective department as well as the politics attached to a major investigation.  The book gives us an inside view to the red herrings when turn out to be actual clues to the unlikely and untouchable suspect.  This is a long (464 pages) story which needs every page to cover such an intricate investigation.  I loaned it to a friend and he found the Spanish environment difficult to navigate, but I had no problem with it and am eager to read the other books in the series.
That’s it for now.  There are more books on my pile and I’ll blog about them later.  Meanwhile, why don’t you let me know what you are reading?  I’m always eager to find new books.