Lynn Darling spent her life losing her way. She used to love the adventure, but by the time she’s into her fifties, a widow of ten years with her daughter off to college, getting lost has lost its allure. In order to find her way, both practically and metaphorically, Darling runs away to the Vermont woods only to find more ways to be lost.
THE SUBJECTIVITY OF READING: HOW DO YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS FARE ON AMAZON?
I noticed recently that one of my favorite books, Anita Brookner’s Booker Prize-winning Hotel Du Lac, averages only 3.7 stars with 82 Amazon reviewers. Not a terrible rating, but surprisingly low to me since I love the book. Amazon features this sentence, quoted from one of the reviews: “The main character was dull and not very likeable, but that may have been the point.” Amazon adds, “10 reviewers made similar comments.”
7/17/2014 – A Cafe of Ideas
The Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, fourth century B.C., once carried a lamp around in daylight looking for an honest man. I am not a philosopher, but I’ve thought about carrying a lamp around like Diogenes looking not for an honest man but for a good conversation. So imagine my envy when I visited Les Deux Magots and Le Cafe de Flore, two cafes in the Rive Gauche section of Paris, which Rick Steves calls “the cafes of ideas.”
As Steves says in his guidebook to Paris, “From Oscar Wilde’s Aestheticism (1900) to Picasso’s Cubism (1910s) to Hemingway’s spare prose (‘20s) to Sartre’s Existentialism (with his girlfriend Simone de Beauvoir
7/13/2014 – CHALLENGED
What do a children’s story involving a wild rumpus, a novel about the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s, and a teenager’s sarcastic narration of a few days in his life have in common? Not much on the surface. But Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak), The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck), and The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) are members of a surprisingly large club: at one time or another, each of these literary works has been banned somewhere in the United States.
7/7/2014 — WHY YOU SHOULD REREAD ANNA KARENINA — AT LEAST ONCE A DECADE
I have a confession to make. I don’t read long books—not even after e-books eliminated two of my complaints (hard to hold in bed and painful if dropped on a toe). The problem is that too many long books just aren’t worth the investment of time, often because of authors who don’t know what to leave out or editors too submissive to cut. I did try to read The Goldfinch to see what the fuss was about, but the laborious writing and the abuse of the semicolon (my favorite mark of punctuation) led me to give up after five pages.
Of course there are exceptions to my big book phobia—beginning with almost everything Tolstoy and Dickens wrote.
THE SPIRIT MOVES ME
I sometimes wonder why I do it—why I write. On occasion I’m inspired and it’s fun, but if I’m honest, it’s usually a struggle. It rarely comes easy and when it’s not going well I am in a perennial state of anxiety and gloom. So why don’t I just give it up?
I usually write about books—reading books, writing books, appreciating books. At the core of a good book is good writing, something most would agree is an art form. Writing can be transformative, completely engrossing entertainment which sparks the imagination and challenges us to see and understand things we may have otherwise never dreamed of.
SENSUAL IMPRESSIONS: A Confederacy of Dunces/The Master and Margarita
My husband and I were 23 and 22 when we visited New Orleans two months before John Kennedy Toole’s March 26, 1969, suicide.
I remember a quaint room off a garden with a wrought iron fence, the smokey power of Nat and Canonball Adderley’s jazz, and the tinny horns of old men who played for tips in narrow spaces between the clubs. This year, when I first read Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, the impression of sensual overload came rushing back. New Orleans is a city that doesn’t let go.
6/17/2014 – Reality vs. the Stuff of Dreams
In my writers’ critique group, a complaint is sometimes hurled at another writer’s plot points by saying, “I don’t believe it, couldn’t happen. It’s not realistic.” Since we are writing fiction, is this a valid criticism?
One might say that so many unbelievable things do happen—we see them online everyday–that we should accept the possibilities, no matter how bizarre. We can point to the old standby from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Another might say that fiction requires a “willing suspension of disbelief.”
For mystery writers, Dr. Max M. Houck, director of D.C.’s Department of Forensic Sciences, speaking
6/13/14 – THE BULWER-LYTTON FICTION CONTEST: WHEN REALLY BAD IS REALLY GOOD
Are your writing chops good enough to craft rotten prose? I mean, really rotten prose. If they are, it’s time to prove it by submitting to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, the competition that asks contestants to create a first sentence to an utter bomb of a novel. With enough skill, that sentence will equal or surpass the famous stinker produced by the contest’s namesake, Edward Bulwer-Lytton: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
6/10/2014—CHARACTERS I’LL NEVER FORGET
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is a long, dense book filled with love, friendship, loss, fear, disappointment—nearly the gamut of human emotions. I love everything about this rich book, but the feature that made the most indelible imprint on my mind was Owen Meany. Every time I glance at the book, wherever it happens to be lying, I see Owen. Whenever I mention the book, or anybody asks me about it, I see Owen. Owen is a unique assembly of physical and mental characteristics who for me will always be the symbol of John Irving’s writing.
So who is Owen?
6/4/14 – MAKING TIME FOR SERENDIPITY
Inexplicably, I found A.S.A. Harrison’s novel The Silent Wife, on my nightstand. Where did this book come from? Did my mother leave it for me? Did I buy it for a book club meeting I couldn’t attend and abandon it? I had no clue, but I picked it up and started reading.
GUEST BLOGGER: The Best Kind of Trouble is Girl Trouble
So you’re trying to come up with a compelling story—one with drama, tension, and maybe even some danger. My suggestion for a go-to main character: a teenage girl.
Teenagers may not seem like an ideal main character, especially for a mystery. They’re under their parents’ thumbs so they can’t easily investigate crimes. They don’t usually have a wealth of resources at their disposal. They can’t be FBI agents or police officers or even dirty politicians.
But teenagers, especially teenage girls, can realistically bring some other wonderful qualities to the table, namely
HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH? – May 26, 2014
I recently heard high praise for a book by a new author and immediately went online to purchase the ebook. When I saw the price however, I was shocked. $12.99 for an ebook?! The Bird Box by Josh Malerman, and published by HarperCollins, was so highly praised, I thought it was bound to be great. But that price completely turned me off. The publisher wisely dropped the price after only a week, to $9.99 and even though I felt that was still a high price for an ebook, I went ahead and bought it. After reading it, I wish I’d waited a bit longer.
The experience led me to ask, what’s a book worth?
I enjoyed a weekend of murder and mayhem this month at Malice Domestic, an annual convention of cozy mystery authors and fans in Bethesda, Maryland. I met some of my favorite authors and learned a whole lot about common poisonous plants and the Washington, D.C. Crime Lab.
What is a cozy? Even authors and fans try their hand at definitions. Generally, it is a crime novel without the blood and gore with an amateur detective who is somehow involved with the victim and/or suspect. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series is a prime example. Current authors include Margaret Maron, Joan Hess,
At Three Editors Journal I read the excerpt below from Dave Barry’s The Complete Guide to Guys, immediately went to Amazon, read more, and bought the book. Here’s the excerpt from the Journal:
Let’s say a guy named Fred is attracted to a woman named Martha. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.
And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Martha, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: “Do you realize that, as of tonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”
5/4/14 – MY BURDENS, MYSELF: WHY I CAN’T GIVE AWAY BOOKS
My daughter is giving away her books. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.
5/1/14 – WHO? WHAT? WHY? GUEST BLOGGER SHERRY AUDETTE MORROW ON CHARACTER, PLOT, AND WHAT COMPELS US TO TURN THE PAGE
On two occasions last December the UPS guy knocked on my front door with packages from Amazon. Each contained a book I had read about and was eager to read, but had not purchased — Donna Tartt’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch and Julian Barnes’s 2011 Man Booker Prize winner The Sense of an Ending. A mini-plot emerged in the minutes it took to carry these boxes inside and slice the tape that sealed them: What was in the packages? Who had sent these books? Who even knew I had wanted to read them?
4/29/14 – PREVIEW OF OUR MAY 1 GUEST BLOGGER, SHERRY AUDETTE MORROW
Which comes first in a novel, the character or the plot? Sherry Audette Morrow is uniquely qualified to offer insights about how these two critical elements can make readers want to turn the page. Sherry is the founding editor of Scribble magazine (www.scribblemagazine.us) as well as a freelance writer/editor and a past president of the Maryland Writers’ Association. Her articles, poetry, and short fiction have appeared in numerous publications, including Chesapeake Life, Baltimore magazine, the anthology New Lines From the Old Line State, and Mean Girls Grown Up. I’ve benefited first-hand from her discerning literary eye, and I’m so pleased that readers of Late Last Night Books will have the opportunity to share this as well.
BROCCOLI AND BOOKS
4/26/2014 – Sometimes I feel as if I need to grab people by the shoulders and shake them while screaming, “but you HAVE to read this book!” This form of persuasion usually overtakes me after hearing someone say, “I don’t read (insert some genre).”
If you don’t read a particular genre (romance, fantasy, mystery, military, sci fi), how could you possibly know if you’d like it or not? Isn’t refusing to try something from a different genre a bit like a child who refuses to taste broccoli before deciding he doesn’t like it?
4/13/14 – LOSING THE LABEL
“She’s an old maid! She never married … She’s just about to close up the library!”
Recognize that line? It’s from the film It’s A Wonderful Life and illustrates the sad fate of Mary Hatch had her husband George Bailey never been born. That’s right; the poor thing would have lived her life repressed, bespectacled, alone. In short, she’d have been … *gasp* … a librarian!
4/10/2014. SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME
Every few days I receive an email suggesting new novels I might like to read. I hear from Kirkus Reviews, Oprah’s Book Club, the Washington Independent Review of Books, Goodreads, and more. Granted, I asked to be on these mailing lists, but occasionally I find so much information overwhelming. And that doesn’t even count the bestseller lists and reviews. So many good novels are coming out every day that I’ll never be able to read them all. Priorities must be set, but how?
4/4/14 – IN PRAISE OF THE LONG NOVEL
Pundits have it that the age of the long, rambling novel is over. Having just read two super long books with book clubs that couldn’t get enough of them, I beg to differ.
3-23-14 WHAT ARE YOU READING?
On Late Last Night Books we’re always writing about books and authors, but what are people reading? I took my questionnaire to people I know and people I don’t know, asking: What are you reading late at night? Why? What do you do by day? The answers might surprise you.
3/17/2014 -DEADLINE: ISTANBUL
Mystery as travel guide? That’s how I read Deadline: Istanbul, Peggy Hanson’s novel featuring a journalist named Elizabeth Darcy as amateur detective. Of course, Darcy carries Jane Austin with her wherever she goes.
Peggy spoke last week at a meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter meeting of Mystery Writers of America, an organization for mystery and crime writers. She wore an Egyptian dress in memory of Elizabeth Peters, pseudonym of mystery author Barbara Mertz, who died last year.