Monday, January 30, 2012

Book a Day!

The most amazing thing I've read this week is Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch. This woman has four children, a husband, a house and house pets. When her sister died, she was grieving by overachieving, and it wasn't bringing her any solace. So she turned to books. She vowed to read a book a day and review it on her blog: I was astounded. Her account gives, in bits and pieces, her process. First she created a work space, complete with a purple arm chair, then cleared shelves and dove in. Her library searches were guided by the length of the book. She figured she could read 300 pages in four hours, still write the review and be done by the time her boys came in from school. Of course, it did not always work that way, but despite distractions, she reached her goal, although at times it might have been midnight when she finished the day's work.

This project intrigues me. I am not about to replicate it. Too many of the things that please me would make this pressure unwelcome. But what Sankovitch did was to relieve some of my guilt when I will not put down a book until the last page. This guilt may come from the only time I recall my mother hitting me. I was in 7th grade, deeply immersed in a book when she announced that dinner was ready. I read on until she came into my room, took the book from my hands and smacked me on the bottom with it. Hardly child abuse, but that event summed up her ambivalence about my reading. As a school teacher, she valued reading, was proud that I had learned early and read almost constantly, but she also wanted me to eat while dinner was hot. I wanted to read while the story was hot, or while I was supposed to be vacuuming or helping start dinner. To this day I get most of my household chores done before I open a book. It's a message from my childhood: reading is good, but housework comes first. Oh, what a tangled web my generation of women has faced.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sick Computer, Sick Writer, Sick Reader

Recently I caught a bug from my iMac or Mac caught a bug from me. My second cold in three weeks has me cranky and lazy, but at least today I'm at my desk, trying slowly to catch up with myself. I've read all the books I checked out from the library last Friday and I'm stuffed with other people's words. Mac will return home today with a new power cord thingy. For a while it looked like he might be terminal, but we are both going to recover. The thing is, I had already announced to some writing friends that I was taking a short sabbatical. Maybe Mac understood and decided to take one also. No, I don't think that's it. I think stuff just happens. No, I don't think that either. The technology doesn't really know what I need, but the universe does and very little happens that does not feel synchronous to me. I needed a stay-cation and having Mac in hospital made that easier to do. My little netbook is fine but a 90-lb weakling compared to Mac. Much easier to ignore.

During this hiatus from work, I've toyed with ideas for new interests to spark my energy, bird watching, archery, travel to a remote place where I know nothing and no one. But, sigh, I probably won't do any of those. What I am doing is listing all the nagging details that have piled up while I sneezed my way through six mystery novels and two boxes of Kleenex. I just finished a Nevada Barr book, Deep South, in which Anna Pigeon, National Park Service ranger and sleuth, finds herself beaten and alone in a deep cleft of the Natchez Trace. That's how I feel, like I'm in a muddy crevasse and too weak to pull myself out. Anna was rescued by chance passersby. Maybe if I smear myself with mud and blood and break my arm someone will rescue me. No? Too melodramatic? Right. Better to return the library books, sip some exotic coffee and resume my own life. But I will keep my eye out for what might be coming over the lip of the depresssion and hope that it's not an alligator or a murderous, greedy man with a shovel and a rope.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Finding Louise Penny

Gotta love my library: browsing the new acquisitions recently, I found a mystery by an author whom I did not know, Still Life, by Canadian writer Louise Penny. Immediately, I was drawn in by her fully developed characters and her artistry with the language. Anyone who can write this sentence impresses me: "Violent death demands Earl Grey [tea]." Nod to the long history of English cosies in which tea is immediately ordered for witnesses and family of the murder victim. Succinct, clever. Equally adept at plotting, Penny tells a story that featured the traditional closed group, in this case residents of a small, obscure town in Quebec province, peopled by smart, distinct characters. Slyly, Penny says that no one can find this idyllic town on a map, but that it lies near the Canadian/US border. As a long-time resident of New England, I was comforted by the familiarity of the climate and the geography.

I gobbled up the book, and went back for more. Yesterday I finished Bury Your Dead. Same basic cast, led by Chief Inspector Gamache, a French speaking investigator also fluent in English, enriched by the addition of residents of Quebec City. Here again, Penny handles the language skillfully, using just enough French to keep us cognizant of the characters' backgrounds and loyalties. The latter is important in this story because the main plot rests on the history of political struggle between French and English citizens of Quebec. Actually, main plot is a misnomer. This story has three plots and like the driver of a troika, the author never loses control as powerful steeds pull us along to the end where all three story lines finish in a flourish. The solitary murder is solved, a cold case is reopened and justice restored, and the wrenching story of a terrorist attack is told in flashbacks and in a penultimate scene that challenges the best action that any film could produce.

Beginning with the first of Penny's mysteries might be a good thing. I think I have inadvertently read a spoiler for whatever title lies between Still Life and Bury Your Dead, but the thing is, I'd reread these books anyway. That's not something I usually do. Once the puzzle is solved most murder mysteries hold little interest. But I'll reread Penny's books because they transcend their genre. May she live long and write much.