Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Literary Corner

My reading lately usually takes one of several directions:

1) Something light but entertaining. For instance, I am currently reading my way through the 28 books in a mystery series by Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who... books. (Sorry, I can't seem to get away from the cat theme these days.) The central character is a middle-aged newspaper columnist who lives with two Siamese cats. One of the cats, Koko, has a knack for sniffing out clues and/or bringing his owner's attention to suspicious people. I avoided the series for years because it sounded entirely hokey, but it turns out that the books are full of likeable characters and the stories are a pleasant diversion when you don't want to have to concentrate too hard on plot.

2) Something slightly more complicated in the plot department. I am also currently reading my way through another mystery series by Elizabeth Peters, the non de plume of Barbara Mertz, a lady with a solid background in Egyptian archeaology. She created a character named Amelia Peabody, an independent lady of means in Victorian England who travels to Egypt, marries an archaeologist, bears him a precocious son and invariably gets caught up in an intriguing mystery while on their periodic digs. I've learned a lot about ancient Egypt reading these books and the mysteries are always well plotted and engaging.

3) The latest book from several authors who never fail to provide an entertaining read: Anne Tyler (hard to describe, but her characters are unforgettable), J. K. Rowling (yes, Harry Potter is for adults as well as kids), Lemony Snicket (ditto his Series of Unfortunate Events books), Ann B. Ross (her Miss Julia books are a riot), and Janet Evanovich (her mysteries or her romance novels can make me laugh out loud).

4) There are the audiobooks that I buy at Half-Price books because they sound interesting and the price is right. Sometimes they are a disappointment, but sometimes you find a jewel. Over the past few weeks I have been pleasantly surprised and grateful to have happened across a few that I can recommend to you in audio or print.

America's Women, by Gail Collins. This history of the American woman takes you on a journey from Virginia Dare in the Jamestown Colony, to the modern woman and gives you a real sense of pride to be an American woman. Also, if you've ever wondered how women managed on wagon trains or in pioneer homes on the frontier, it's a real eye-opener.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. It's a flat out hoot. Particularly enjoyable if you've ever spent time as a personal assistant or secretary. Which I have.

Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas and Micah Sparks. I had this on my shelf for quite awhile before I decided to give it a try. I've plodded through several novels by Nicholas Sparks via audiobook and I'm of mixed feelings about him. His novels are not something I would heartily recommend since they manipulate your emotions and he seems to delight in catching you off guard and punching you in the gut. However, this book is enthralling. It is a non-fictional account of a 3-week trip around the world that he took with his brother, interspersed with memories of their childhood. It keeps me sitting in the car for several minutes after I arrive at my destination, just to hear the end of a chapter because I'm so caught up in the narrative.

On Writing by Stephen King. King is another writer whose novels I would just as soon never open. But this memoir about how he became a writer and advice to would-be writers is fascinating. And I do appreciate someone who appreciates the proper use of grammar.

The Mitford Books by Jan Karon. Like Anne Tyler, her writing is hard to describe. She writes a series of novels set in the small town of Mitford and whose central character is an Episcopal priest who marries for the first time at the age of 60. The plots are simple slices of life, but the characters are irresistible.

All of these last few books were happy accidental discoveries because the price was right. I will keep haunting Half-Price Books and taking chances on the unknown so long as these kinds of discoveries keep coming along.

5) Finally, there is an interesting website that I discovered through someone else's blog. It's called Daily Lit . These folks have taken many well-known books and broken them down into daily doses which they will email to you on weekdays. Each portion takes about 5 minutes to read. Among their available books was Pride & Prejudice, a book that I've never been able to force myself to read. So I'm taking it a small dose at a time (currently I've completed 12 of 149 segments). It's an interesting concept and I'm reading each segment, but still wondering why so many seem to feel this is such an outstanding book. I find it incredibly dull and hoping I don't feel compelled to relegate it to the junk email bucket before I finish. (True Confession: The only time I ever resorted to using Cliff Notes for a book report was in a college English literature course. The assigned book was Emma, another Jane Austen novel. I just could not make myself finish the thing. It was horribly dull. So, that one time I took a short cut. I would do it again, without a twinge of guilt. The book was god-awful.)

But enough about me. Read any good books lately?


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