It is inevitable that as humans, we will grieve at some point in our lives. Grief is a journey by Kenneth J. Doka has as its title, the perfect metaphor for grief -- it is a journey, not a moment or a period in your life. I highly recommend this book.
I am on my own grief journey, and because I'm an avid reader, I've been thinking about how I use books and reading in this context. I enjoy all types of books, fiction and nonfiction. In my fiction reading, as you can tell from this website, I adore mysteries. Some, I find, are challenging and educational in presenting places, periods, events, and topics that are new and interesting to me. Other mysteries are just pure fun reading. I always read literary fiction, as well. I usually have one mystery, one literary novel, and a nonfiction book on hand.
I realized early on with my husband's cancer diagnosis, that I started to find literary novels often depressing. This was also the case with films, as well. My life was difficult enough without taking on someone else's troubles, fictionalized as it may be.
With my husband's death, I absolutely had to stop reading books or watching films that presented tragic circumstances. I still enjoy challenging books but I have to put down the depressing ones. I wonder if others have the same experience. Reading is a true comfort for me - absolutely essential. Will my reading habits change permanently? What is the trajectory of reading tastes over one's lifetime? I've started researching this a bit.
I have been reading historical fiction for decades, and one can certainly call some of the classic novels of the literary canon historical fiction, though it is rarely done. HIstorical fiction, as a genre today, is prolific but often denigrated. And yet, there is deep value in a good historical fiction book. I've found that these stories are typically well researched and bring a stunningly realistic view into the everyday lives of people during a particular period of time.
Writing such good fiction requires strong research skills, certainly. That is essential. What is really tricky, though, is balancing the tremendous amount of research with a flowing, easily accessible writing skill. After having read thousands of these books, I've encountered two major pitfalls of historical fiction writers. One is that excellent research doesn't always translate into an easily readable writing style. These writers may be great researchers (and are often scholars), but they, unfortunately have an awkward writing style and focus too much on setting a scene or period and tend to throw into too much detail, sacrificing character development. I've often picked up one of these books based on the period or event it covers, and perhaps impressed by the author's credentials, only to find that the book is simply unreadable. The second major pitfall is when a writer brings 21st century sensibilities into another period of time, and it obviously doesn't fit. Please don't get me wrong on this: I do enjoy writers who explore societal conditions and prejudices, and I like characters who defy the conventions of the time. In every generation, there have always been iconoclastic individuals. There is, however, a dismaying tendency for some historical fiction writers to impart their main characters with 21st century phrasing, beliefs and actions. These books simply don't ring true to the reader. I have to say that sometimes, if the writing is purely delightful, I can suspend that problem, but these are never my favorite books or writers.
Good news, though. Right now, there is a wonderful abundance of excellent historical fiction writers who shun those pitfalls and give the reader not only an immensely pleasurable reading experience but an amazing education on the time period and events covered in the book. This sort of education has never been found in the classroom or by reading textbooks. We readers depend on these writers to pull us into a new world that actually existed and is part of our history. I commend these writers! I've learned so much from them. You will find many of these writers in my reviews.
As a child and well into my adult years, I would become so immersed in my reading that I would not hear things in the outside world, such as someone calling my name. Books were everything to me as a child -- the written word was my way out of my own troubled world and into many amazing, stunning, outrageous and shocking worlds. These worlds called to me so strongly that I was able to literally shut out the outside world. I vividly recall when I first stayed up through the night to read a book. I was 13, it was summer, and the book was Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I started it one evening and did not put it down until the early morning hours. Although I was always a devouring type of reader, and a very fast reader, I think it was at this moment that I realized just how transforming a good novel could be.
This tendency to shut out the world was disconcerting to my new husband when he found this out within months of living with me! I simply would not respond easily when I was reading a good book. He would need to call and call me to shake me out of my book world and respond. But as the years went by, he understood the power that books have for me. He always chuckled when I returned from the library with a stack of books, because he said I had such a delicious look of excitement and anticipation bringing in those books. I still think about that comment, though often my books are e-books now, and I don't have to carry them or even show them to the outside world.
Is there anything like a book that pulls you into that world? I'm grateful that so many children discovered this through the Harry Potter books. I believe that is why series are so powerful -- because the characters in a series grow and change and become more and more real. My sense of anticipation grows stronger with a really good series, and I'm so glad that authors are writing more and more series.
I've used the term "immersive reading" for this post, but the term has been taken over now to indicate books that have audible reading (narration) along with the printed book -- or perhaps a soundtrack added to an ebook. While these additions are fine for those who need it or want it, I still use the term for reading just the printed word. As my stories indicate, the printed word can certainly be as immersive as adding another sense. Just as an excellent film transports us into a story or another reality, a simple book can do the same. Remember, Harry Potter fans were readers well before the films were released.
Is there a difference, asks the true reader? Well, yes and no.
No, there is not much difference in the actual textual content you are reading, whether it is an electronic page or a printed page. The content is the same for the vast majority of books.
But, yes, there is a difference in what is delivered up as non-textual content in the e-format. The extra stuff -- photos, illustrations, embedded video or audio (rarely) - is often poorly rendered or simply absent. And, the e-reader can certainly give the reader a hard time or an easy time. This is obvious when you try to read magazines. Spare us the flipping pages, where you have to tediously resize each page! So 20th century! It's a truly awful experience that I keep subjecting myself to when my library enticingly offers a new issue of a desired magazine. I know of no magazine reader that does this well. Please send me a note if there is one. Freeport Press ran a survey last year that found most readers of magazines don't like digital magazines and much prefer print.
The true reader is format agnostic. As long as the text is available, the reader will read. But if images are present, nothing works as well as the printed page. Will we find a solution for these image-heavy books in the electronic world? I hope so.
The real innovation in the ebook space will continue to be adding content that isn't available in print -- videos, primarily, but also new corrections, additions, revisions, annotations by the author, etc. Haven't seen this happen much, but it's there, waiting for the innovative author to use.
Historical fiction, when well done, can give insights and information that are easily understood and truly educational in the most engaging manner. Imagine your high school history teacher actually being fascinating, and your history lessons not just centered on memorizing events and people but finding out about the people from history.
For women and minorities, historical fiction has been a way to tell their stories, those stories that have mostly been ignored in the history textbooks. At the very least, it fleshes out the history that we learn in school. I particularly enjoy mysteries, so historical mysteries are a special interest of mine. I don't enjoy mysteries that don't teach me something, so placing a mystery in a time period is a perfect mode of teaching.
There is a wonderful website called Women in World History which has a special section on Historical Mysteries with Women Sleuths. This is a fabulous find, as it lists books by geographic region as well as historical time period.
History becomes real when you read fictional stories that are well researched and authentic in their details. And we know that racism and xenophobia can be lessened and even eliminated when one becomes acquainted with the stranger. That is best done in person or through media, but it can also be done through reading. Over the last few decades, teachers have encouraged students to read literature from other countries and books that give perspectives of different cultures and ethnicities. This helps tremendously with empathy and understanding of persons and cultures different from one's own.
Everyone should read a book about something quite different from their own experiences. Sometimes, I have to push myself to read outside my comfort zone. I've always been rewarded, though. One of my all time favorite books is now Chimamanda Nzogi Adichie's stunning Americanah. I had never read or even thought much about the many Nigerians who are part of the US. This book explored many issues of immigrants and the clash of living in two worlds and cultures. It is truly an unforgettable story.
I do read quite a bit of nonfiction, and it is invaluable for learning about history. There is no substitute, in fact. Historical fiction, however, is a perfect addition. It's entertaining in a way that nonfiction can rarely be, and it provides a much deeper look at the day to day lives and issues for a particular place, person, or event. So, supplement your history with one of the excellent historical fiction books available. For learning about another culture or ethnicity, or the hidden or obscured histories of women or marginalized peoples, historical fiction is a treasure.
The Women's National Book Association has awarded its centennial award, the Second Century Prize, to Little Free Library. This prize is a $5,000 grant to an organization that supports the power of reading, past, present, and into the future.
How suitable that Little Free Library has received this award -- it has certainly been an innovative project That promotes reading for all ages, but especially children, by building free book exchanges. It was founded in Hudson, Wisconsin, by Todd Bol to honor his mother, a school teacher. In just eight years the organization has become an international movement of mini-libraries sharing the message of “give one, take one.” LFL has over 50,000 libraries in 70+ countries with millions of books exchanged annually.
Not to rest on its original concept, Little Free Library is always innovating. Its Kids, Community, and Cops program helps police departments set up book exchanges in their precincts), and its Action Book ClubTM encourages social engagement through shared reading.
Congratulations, Little Free Library!
WNBA Award winners have been announced. This year, the centennial year of the organization, two women recipients were chosen. The WNBA has selected the current librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden; and novelist, poet, and bookstore owner Louise Erdrich.
The WNBA Award is presented every other year to “a living American woman who derives part or all of her income from books and allied arts, and who has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation.” The award has been presented continuously since 1940, originally every year and since the mid-1970s, biennially.
This year, in commemoration of the WBNA’s Centennial, the organization is honoring two women who represent the wide spectrum of women in the book world—one woman involved in the business or dissemination of books and one in the creation of them.
Hayden was selected due to her commitment to making libraries relevant to the world, responsive to the trends of their times, and vital parts of the communities they serve. Erdrich was selected due to her dedication to adding to the complex narrative of American culture, to giving voice to indigenous peoples, and to supporting the importance of independent bookstores, through her own store, Birchbark.
The history and recipients of the WNBA Award will be celebrated and recognized at the WNBA’s Centennial Celebration to take place on Saturday, October 28th in New York City at Pen + Brush.
Press Release Announcing 2017 Winners
I'm a devourer of books, a fast reader who just can't stop reading. The speed can be good and bad. I developed into a speed reader as a child, eating up the Nancy Drew mysteries, Trixie Belden, and similar books. My speed helped me tremendously in college and in getting through countless books. But it does have a negative side -- sometimes I go too quickly to really savor excellent writing. I'll never forget the first book that made me slow down -- Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. I was whizzing through it, as usual, when all of a sudden it hit me -- this was gorgeous writing. I slowed down. I enjoyed every sentence. It took me a long time (for me) to finish that rather slim book, but it was a great experience. It has made me slow down for fine writing -- unfortunately, often a rarity.
I have to read. I must read. I cannot stop reading. While I prefer a really good novel or enlightening nonfiction book, I'll read just about anything -- from People magazine (not enough words!) to cereal boxes.
Friends of mine fall into this category and also into the frequent but not fanatical reader, and the infrequent reader category. I can only speak of what I know -- the all-consuming reader.
We are the ones who are always reading in waiting rooms, on planes and buses. We are the ones who look at you rather blankly when asked what is your favorite book. There are so many! And, when asked what you are reading right now, the fanatical reader pauses. So many books flash through one's head. Usually, there is more than one book being read. It may be worthy, but it may not be. It may be bubblegum reading or serious reading. For those of uswho read all the time, these questions are very hard to answer!
What kind of reader are you? Do you find it easy to answer questions about your reading?
Spring brings so many new titles to read! Many new entries by my favorite authors and some discoveries make me eager for this season each year.
Do you keep up with the releases of your favorite authors? There are several ways to do this - here are a few:
Next time, I'll take you through some great video review sites.
There are many sources of free e-books, the grandmother of which is Project Gutenburg. And don't forget your own public library! You won't 'own' these ebooks, but you can borrow them. Who knows if we really 'own' any of our bought ebooks, in any case?
If you want to be informed of the latest free books, there are several services available that will send you daily or frequent emails about the latest free or inexpensive ebooks available. I've found a few gems in the emails sent to me from these services. And please note that they usually include other books which are not free, but are a modest price - typically under $3. Here are a few that I use (let me know if you have additional sourceds):
Kobo makes it easy to find their free ebooks, with a page dedicated to these. It helpfully divides the books into categories, too.
Barnes and Noble booksellers also have a listing of their Nook free ebooks, also divided into categories.
The biggie Amazon has a free or low-cost ebook page, but there are other ways to search out free ebooks (though not easy). To start, just browse their collection page. You can also sign up for the Kindle Daily Deal, which often introduces the reader to excellent writers. I have to give Amazon some praise here for turning me onto a favorite and high quality series by a free ebook, the first of James Benn's Billy Boyle series. What a great writer and a beautifully rendered series on a Boston cop turned soldier during WWII.
Not a bookseller (although owned by Amazon), GoodReads has a listing of downloadable ebooks right from their site. I expect these change rapidly, though.
Even university presses have gotten into the promotion business. The venerable University of Chicago Press will send you a free epub book each month. While some of these are undisputably academic, the selectors do tend to pick those with quirky titles and topics - not bad! Get on their email list. These are quality books.
Warning: many of these free ebook deals are only available for one day, so act immediately if something looks worthwhile!