Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Salon: The Dreaded Reader's Slump

Good things happened this week:
  1. Book Bloggers International. I was a featured blogger this week! Check it out here.
  2. Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon: I committed to reading for 24 hours next Saturday (4/26) and I volunteered to be a cheerleader, too. This will be my first read-a-thon and of course I'm pondering what books to pile next to my reading chair. Join us! Last I looked there are already 259 readers signed up!
A not so good thing (or maybe its just a neutral thing) happened this week, too:

The dreaded reader's slump hit.

Perhaps it's the spring weather that's making me a restless reader, but last week I had a hard time settling into a book.

I'd been (I'd say 'happily,' but its not that kind of book) reading along in Suite Francaise when a gruesome scene halted me in my tracks. I will eventually read on in this novel and still have it listed as 'currently reading' on Goodreads, but I needed to put it down for a while. Kind of like how Joey in "Friends" would put The Shining in the freezer when things got too intense.

So, I downloaded Nevada Barr's new mystery, Destroyer Angel. I'd been awaiting its release, but after taking three days to get only a third of the way into it, I abandoned the book. I realized I just didn't care about the characters or their situation enough to read on. And it seemed like Anna Pigeon isn't very involved, up through the point I read anyway. I've enjoyed Barr's Anna Pigeon series since it started in the early 1990s and was both surprised and bummed that I wasn't able to lose myself in her latest offering. I will try it again sometime in the future. Has anyone read this one yet? Is it just me?

After that disappointment, I thought I'd try a guaranteed page turner: Dan Brown. Who doesn't love Dan Brown? (Wait, don't answer that question.) My partner bought me Inferno last spring to read while I was recuperating from some oral surgery. Due to an allergic reaction to both the antibiotics and the pain medication, I didn't get any reading done that long weekend. Then we got busy with moving prep and moving, and I decided to keep the book for a special weekend. Well, this was that weekend and Inferno did not do it for me. I made it halfway through the book before I gave up on it. It seemed repetitious and dull. Again, is it me? Anyone else read this one and love it? Should I give it another chance?

Desperate for a novel to get in to, I tried my own advice of reading an old favorite. (I had already taken my "get out into nature" advice and "take a day drive" advice that I give people when they're in a reading slump.)  I pulled Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried off the shelf and read the lead story. That gave me back my reading mojo. It is so amazingly good.

Have you ever had a reading slump? What do you think causes it? Do you think it could come from too much reading? Too much serious or trivial reading? How do you get through it?

Coming up this week:

The big deal this week is World Book Night on Wednesday. I'm handing out Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity. This will be my third year as a giver, but my first in Connecticut. Are you a giver this year? What title are you handing out?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 3

Steve Himmer
Sunday morning was the final event of Booktopia Vermont. Author Steve Himmer joined Ann, Michael, and a few dozen Booktopians back at the Northshire Bookstore for a discussion on the topic Reading Like a Writer.

What does it mean to read like a writer? How do you do it?  Can you ever not read as a writer after you learn how to? Where do audiobooks fit into this mix?

I really enjoyed this discussion. It seemed that everyone was pretty much in agreement that English majors and voracious readers tend to read for the story, character, and themes. Sure, such readers are often struck by a beautiful scene or sentence, but digging in and unpacking how such a beautiful scene was constructed to understand how it caused that effect is not something most readers get into. At least not most of us who were in the room nodding in agreement. Writers do dig in. Steve mentioned that he'll re-read books important to him several times to see how the writer does what he does in order to learn those techniques.

So when writers read they see things readers don't necessarily pay attention to although readers will/might feel these things. This is neither good nor bad; it just is. Author Matthew Dicks was in attendance and made the comparison to a friend of his who builds houses. The friend walks into a house and sees every thing behind the walls, he no longer just appreciates a pretty room. In fact, may not be able to simply see only a pretty room anymore. The point being that writers, as story builders, see the underpinning, the structural beams holding up the created story.

This analogy resonated with me. I thought about when we bought our first house. Like most first time home buyers we were so naive--we were all about the style of the house, how we would inhabit its space, where it was located in relation to what was important to us. Looking for our second home was a different experience. We were still concerned about the style, the space, the location, but we also knew what to look for in terms of structural soundness, health of the mechanicals, proper drainage, etc. I can still appreciate a nice looking house, but I'm also more aware of the nuts & bolts and potential issues a house may have.

P.S. Duffy
One of my favorite comments came from Penny Duffy who said (and I am nowhere near as eloquent as she was when she said this) that during a first draft the writer is writing like a reader--writing to get the story, images, and characters onto the page. Then, during subsequent drafts, the writer is reading like a writer--looking for opportunities to apply the tools of the trade in order to transform the draft into a seemingly effortless story for other readers to enjoy. I hope I got that right. It makes perfect sense to me.

Once writers intimately understand how a story is constructed, can they ever read for pleasure? Steve said he reads outside of the genre he's writing in for pleasure. For one, he isn't comparing technique, and two, he isn't being influenced by content that's similar to what he may be writing. Not reading a book that's on the same subject you're writing about is the easiest way to avoid charges of plagiarism. I have heard that's why Patricia Cornwell doesn't read mystery/thriller novels (and she was accused of plagiarism in the past).

Matthew Dicks said he finds that listening to audiobooks makes him less critical of the writing. He simply listens and enjoys the story. A Booktopian said the exact opposite happens to her, that she is more analytical when listening to audiobooks. Interesting, right? I wonder how much these opposing reactions have to do with learning styles. My critical tools go out the window when I'm listening to an audiobook. If anything bothers me its usually the narrator's voice. I'm more of a visual and tactile learner than an auditory learner.

This brought up an experience that Kelly Corrigan had. Her latest book was already typeset and she was recording the audiobook version. Through reading her work out loud, she found all sorts of changes that she wanted to make. 1,100 to be exact. And since the book was already typeset she had to pay for the changes to be made, but she did because they were that important. Bruce Holsinger told someone that he cringed a bunch of times at his own writing when listening to his book in audio. So note to writers: read your work aloud! [Cayt, if you're reading this, remember how you told me to do that last year?? You're brilliant!]

I could go on and on about this session and how awesome it was, but hopefully the recorder worked and you'll eventually hear it on Books on the Nightstand.

If you're interested in learning how to read like a writer, check out Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. I have the book and started reading it earlier this year, but got a little overwhelmed. I think I'll go back to it, but take it much more slowly. Its not only for writers, but for readers who want to learn how to read more deeply.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 2

The highlight of the day for me was attending Gail Caldwell's afternoon event.

Gail Caldwell and Michael Kindness
I adore Gail's memoir, Let's Take the Long Way Home, and am looking forward to reading her new one, New Life, No Instructions 

But first, some shots from around town (Manchester, Vermont).

Future home of the Manchester Community Library.

Ye Olde Tavern . . .
. . . wining & dining since 1790 (website).
Flying Cow Signs (website)

The American Museum of Fly Fishing (website). Notice the marble side walk. There's lots of marble around town. I'll have to ask someone about that tomorrow.
The view up Main Street from the Northshire Bookstore.
The Northshire Bookstore runs on solar power. How cool is that?
#shelfie in Northshire. Some day I'll own my own cow.
And here we are at the big Saturday night author event. Ann and Michael say a few words to a standing room only crowd. It appeared that all 85 Booktopians and lots of folks from the community attended.
Bruce Holsinger read us Caedmon's Hymn in both Old English and modern English. So beautiful.
Gail Caldwell: "Writing is a solitary act of faith."
John Demos. His new book is The Heathen School: A Story of Hope & Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. An earlier book of his, The Unredeemed Captive (1995), is still selling strong at Northshire. In fact, they've sold more copies of the book than any bookstore in the country. I'm embarrassed to admit I bought that book when it first came out and I've yet to read it. I just moved it toward the top of my TBR list!
Rupert Thomson: now a posh author, but once upon a time he was the winter caretaker of Miriam Margolyes's (Professor Sprout) house in Tuscany.
P.S. (Penny) Duffy talked about the inspiration for writing stories, the fire that a writer feels to explore a subject.
Kelly Corrigan. Shoplifter. Wow, is she funny! Glitter and Glue is her new book.
The one canine in attendance fell asleep a time or two, but overall seemed to enjoy the evening as much all as the humans in the room. Each author spoke for about 10 minutes and afterwards signed copies of their books. Ann and Michael recorded tonight's event and will eventually feature the authors on Books on the Nightstand. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 1

What is Booktopia, you ask?
"Booktopia is a series of three annual reader/author weekend events, held at various locations around the US in partnership with great independent bookstores."
Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of the podcast Books on the Nightstand started Booktopia several years ago in Manchester, Vermont. They have have since included more locations throughout the US, but each event is capped off at 85 attendees and 6 authors in order to keep the experience on the intimate side. And one of the three events, I'm told, will always be held in Manchester in partnership with the Northshire Bookstore.

This year the Vermont event sold out in six minutes. I was on the waiting list and was invited to come on Wednesday. I lucked out! This is my first Booktopia, but some attendees are old hands.

Here are some pictures from Day 1:
Bibliophiles queuing up, waiting for the doors of the First Baptist Church to open. This year the author events are held inside this church and in the Northshire Bookstore, which is the blue-green building in the back.
Ann and Michael kick things off.

Bruce Holsinger, author of the Chaucer historical thriller A Burnable Book, and P.S. Duffy, author of the World War I novel The Cartographer of No Man's Land, discuss historical fiction.
Rupert Thomson reads from his new novel Secrecy. This novel is also historical fiction, set in Florence in 1691. This is not the Florence of the Renaissance days, but a dark, repressive Florence where pleasure is outlawed. A composer friend of Thomson's may be turning this story into an opera.

Here's a shot of the Northsire Bookstore (on the left) and the First Baptist Church (on the right).
I also attended the Yankee Book Swap which was held at the Inn at Manchester. For this event attendees were asked to bring a wrapped book of their choice, either a favorite or even a gag book. The books were placed on a table and we were each given a lottery ticket. When your number was called you chose a book and opened it. The person who gave that book said their name, where they're from, and why they gave that book. There are folks where from Seattle to Florida and everywhere in between. It was a nice icebreaker. The second person to open a book on down to the last, were able to "steal" a book from someone else if they preferred a different book, and then at the end the first person could "steal" any book they wanted. There was some stealing going on and lots of laughter. 
The book I gave was Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, one of my all-time favorites, and the book I received was Night Film by Marisha Pessl.
Manchester is a New England resort town in the Green Mountains of Vermont. I'll have more time to explore tomorrow and Sunday and will try to share some pictures each day.
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