“The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson, and”Biography of a Story”

It was late – 10:30 pm. I had to wake up early the next morning, as it was observation day in the ballet program my son’s been in for all of July.

But I hadn’t read my short story of the day yet. In the week since I started this short story of the day ritual, I’ve come to anticipate it, delight in it.

In a word, short stories, I have found, are addictive.

So even though it was late, I pulled a story from my story box, which has been getting fuller on a nearly daily basis as I continue to add more and more short stories to it.

The story I pulled? “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson.

I’m a bit incredulous myself that I have never before read this famous, classic short story. Written back in 1948, I’ll tell you this: it still packs a punch.

But perhaps the most delightful part? I finished the story and decided to read Jackson’s essay about “The Lottery”, a piece called “Biography of a Story”. Both pieces are in the collection, Come Along With Me.

“Biography of a Story” talks about people’s reactions to the publication of “The Lottery” in the New Yorker back on June 28, 1948. It’s a great read.

One of the most terrifying aspects of publishing stories and books is the realization that they are going to be read, and read by strangers. I had never fully realized this before, although I had of course in my imagination dwelt lovingly upon the thought of the millions and millions of people who were going to be uplifted and enriched and delighted by the stories I wrote. It had simply never occurred to me that these millions and millions of people might be so far from being uplifted that they would sit down and write me letters I was downright scared to open; of the three-hundred-odd letters that I received that summer I can count only thirteen that spoke kindly to me, and they were mostly from friends. Even my mother scolded me: “Dad and I did not care at all for your story in The New Yorker,” she wrote sternly; “it does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of story is what all you young people think about these days. Why don’t you write something to cheer people up?”

Jackson then shares snippets of letters she’s received from people from all over the world in response to her story. First, there are the ones who appear to think the story is non-fiction, or based on fact:

Will you please tell me the locale and the year of the custom?

And then there’s this one:

I think your story is based on fact. Am I right? As a psychiatrist I am fascinated by the psychodynamic possibilities suggested by this anachronistic ritual.

And then there were the letters which tried to explain the meaning of it all. I thought this one was the funniest:

The only thing that occurs to me is that perhaps the author meant we should not be too hard on our presidential nominees.

Several people seemed to think the magazine deliberately left out a few much-needed paragraphs:

What happened to the paragraph that tells what the devil is going on?

And:

The printers left out three lines of type somewhere.

As for the third category of letters, here’s what Jackson had to say:

Far and away the most emphatic letter writers were those who took this opportunity of indulging themselves in good old-fashioned name-calling. Since I am making no attempt whatsoever to interpret the motives of my correspondents, and would not if I could, I will not try now to say what I think of people who write nasty letters to other people who just write stories.

Ah. Human nature (or should I say, “troll-la-la-la-la”?) It appears some things never change.

Here are my thoughts, on reading the story for the first time 66 years after it’s initial publication. It’s a good story. I kind of knew where things were headed, since it has, after all, been 66 years and in that time, writers have continued to push boundaries. But it’s still a good read after all these years. And “Biography of a Story”? Delightful. Such fun to read about the reactions of those readers who felt compelled to write letters to the New Yorker, letters which ended up in the author’s hands (the New Yorker faithfully sent her all letters, except for anonymous ones, which went into the garbage). Jackson herself takes it all in with a nice, practical grain of salt.

I have all the letters still, and if they could be considered to give any accurate cross section of the reading public, or the reading public of The New Yorker, or even the reading public of one issue of The New Yorker, I would stop writing now.

The Short Story Box: A Short Story A Day, Randomized

When I was in my early twenties, I read a lot of short stories, but then somewhere between then and now, I fell out of the habit.

Last year, I picked up Neil Gaiman’s short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors, and remembered how much pleasure a well-crafted short story can bring to me as a reader. I decided back then that I wanted to read more short stories (yes, it was about a year ago – I procrastinate quite well).

Fast forward to now. Since that time last year, I have, rather unconsciously, been collecting short story collections and anthologies. Last week, I took a look around at my bookshelves, both physical and digital, and realized I’d amassed quite the collection.

I also realized something else. I don’t reach for a book of short stories the way I reach for a novel.  With a novel, I get these squiggly bookish feelings of anticipation and when these come, I naturally reach for whichever novel it is, and start reading.

This doesn’t happen with short stories. Have you noticed how short story collections are often great big thick books? I find they make me feel a little wary.

But I still have this desire to start reading more short stories.

So I decided, if the idea of a big collection of short stories is off-putting, why not have some fun with things instead?

Fun, as in surprising myself with a different short story every day!

Here is my Short Story box:

short story box

I made up a list in my Bullet Journal, giving each short story collection or anthology a letter. Then I cut up a bunch of paper from the paper recycling box. I began going through each of the books, jotting down the title of the short story (and the page number, for print books) on a small slip of paper, which I then tossed into my Short Story box.

My plan is to pick a short story from the box every day. No more resistance to those thick short story anthologies. No more trying to decide what genre I want to read. It will always be a surprise!

If this works out, I’ll simply keep adding more books to my collection, and more short story titles to my Short Story box. If this doesn’t work out, well, I’ve been having a great time writing down titles, and marvelling at how imaginative some of them are are.

Here are the short story collections/anthologies I’ve gone through so far (I have many more, plus ones I’ve saved to Pocket from various places like the New Yorker magazine):

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami)

he Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection

M is for Magic (Neil Gaiman)

Mammoth Book of Best British Mysteries, vol. 9

The O’Henry Prize Stories, 2013

Best American Mystery Stories, 2011

Come Along with Me (Shirley Jackson)

Best Horror of the Year, vol 6

Best Horror of the Year, vol. 5

Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 24

Others still to be added include short story collections from Flannery O’Connor and Ray Bradbury, as well as a lot more anthologies in the mystery, horror, thriller, science fiction and fantasy genres. I’m going for an eclectic mix, and will be keeping my eye out for new anthologies to add to my collection.

It feels like a lot of fun to me, and if I can stick with a short story a day, by this time next year I will have read 365 short stories! I like the sound of that.

Do you like to read short stories? If yes, do you have a collection/anthology that you would highly recommend? A favourite short story author?

My Reading Notes: London Falling, by Paul Cornell

I recently downloaded this very handy little iPhone app called Drafts, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much use I’m able to get out of it. The feature that appeals to me the most is the app’s ability to append text to plain text documents I’ve got uploaded on Dropbox.

I decided to give the app a try by using it to document all the thoughts running through my head as I’m reading a novel. It worked like a charm, and now I’ll be able to post these thoughts as “My Reading Notes”!

Here are my first set of reading notes, on London Falling by Paul Cornell. This is the first in a series featuring four London police officers who develop “the Sight” after touching a supernatural artifact. I admit, the main reason I wanted to read this book was because I wanted to be familiar with the characters so I could read the second book in the series, The Severed Streets, in which the team tackles a killer who appears to be imitating Jack the Ripper.

london falling by paul cornell

My initial thoughts, on beginning the book:

The beginning is a bit of a challenge for me, but knowing all the supernatural stuff that’s to come is getting me through it. I’m on page 12 now and things are starting to settle with me as I get to know the characters better.

And then things started clicking:

On pg 38: Interview with Toshack. Wow. Okay, now we ‘re rolling.

But I’m still a little confused:

On pg 51: There’s still a lot of things referred to in the text that I don’t understand …

Despite the confusion …

On pg 65: This is getting good!

On pg 98: I love this. No denial crap going on for pages. Thank goodness! I’m hooked now.

On pg 106: I’m starting to see now, a good urban fantasy has a strong element of horror to it. At least, this one does.

Still confusing sometimes as to who’s speaking. Some great lines. Pg 133 “He never told jokes; it had just slipped out and made a change in the world.”

On pg 196: So inventive! Enjoying this thoroughly.

On pg 251: Love the technology they use. Hurray for Google Street View!

On pg 272: Waiting for significance of five over four. Wonder who it will be?

Then, WHOA!

On pg 304: !!! As in, OMG

A good quote:

On pg 327: “It is time that defines whether something is real or not. Time is what makes what people experience a tragedy or a love story or a triumph. Hell is where time has stopped, where there’s no more innovation. No horizon. No change.”

And finally, on finishing the book:

Final thoughts: so much imagination here. Amazing how many different aspects of how the Sight shows you he’s come up with. Think it could have used some tighter editing in parts but overall it was all so inventive and I really enjoyed it. Stayed up till 2:30 am to finish it, which says a lot.

So there you have it. My thoughts on London Falling, in real time, so to speak. I am really looking forward to reading The Severed Streets now!

Book Cravings: Salem’s Lot

Have you ever had a book craving? Where you find yourself really wanting to reread a book, usually one you haven’t read for quite a while?

I have book cravings occasionally, and the past couple of weeks, another one crept up on me.

salems lot

It’s been quite a while since I read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I’m pretty sure I was still in my teens, during a period when I was reading a lot of horror novels. I’d been reading King’s Danse Macabre recently, and that might explain the craving.

So it’s loaded up on my iPod now. I’m on Chapter 5, and yes, it’s really as creepy as I remember it to be.

“…old horrors colliding with modern technology and investigative techniques.”

- Stephen King on Dracula in the Introduction to Salem’s Lot

Do you ever have book cravings? What was the latest reread you absolutely craved?

Armchair BEA: Exploring Middle-Grade Novels

ArmchairBEAI’ve never stopped loving children’s books, and have reread my childhood favourites many many times despite having become an adult many many years ago (lots of many’s there!).

Whenever I’m in the library, I always like to include the children’s section in my meanderings through the shelves, and always find at least a handful of middle-grade books to take home with me.

This Armchair BEA topic got me thinking about some of my recent favourites, the middle-grade novels I didn’t grow up with, the ones I discovered when I was already all grown up. And I also realize I’d like to explore the middle-grade range more than I have been – not just being content with whatever I might stumble upon when I have a chance to browse at the library (although that makes me quite contented!) but also searching out the latest middle-grade books, following more middle-grade book bloggers and reading more than just the most recent award winners.

I’ve only just embarked on this new exploration, and expect many delightful finds to come as a result, so my choices below aren’t particularly recent books, although none of them go as far back as my own childhood.

Mysteries

I love a good mystery, and as an adult reading middle-grade novels, it’s not that easy to find a really good middle-grade mystery. Unlike adult mysteries, middle-grade mysteries don’t tackle murder that often. As you expand out into the young adult book world, this changes, but generally speaking the middle-grade mysteries I’ve read have been mostly about robberies, burglaries, and bad guys up to no-good schemes involving burglary and robbery.

A good middle-grade author can, however, take these themes and make them as exciting as the latest Harry Hole mystery by Jo Nesbo. Yes, without any serial killers or deranged murderers. My favourites include the Herculeah Jones mysteries by Betsy Byars and Blue Balliett’s art-themed mysteries (I rave about Balliett’s The Calder Game here.)

Dead Letter

Calder Game

Fantasies

When it comes to fantasies, the middle-grade range continues to offer a fabulous selection. This was true when I was growing up, and the whole fantasy area has exploded since then, with many thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Two recent favourites of mine are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jinx by Sage Blackwood (I reviewed Jinx here). Book 2 of the Jinx series, Jinx’s Magic came out earlier this year, and it’s definitely on my to-read list.

Graveyard Book

Jinx Sage Blackwood

These are my two favourite genres in general, so it’s no surprise I tend to be drawn to middle-grade novels in these genres as well. I am, however, currently reading Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, a contemporary middle-grade, and I’m enjoying it (it’s on my son’s upcoming Battle of the Books list, and we’re reading it together. It’s not really the type of book I should be reading with my eleven-year-old son, but we’re having fun with it.)

What about you? Do you read a lot of middle-grade novels? Have any must-read titles to recommend to me? I’m looking to add to my middle-grade to-read list, so any help would be appreciated!

‘Flash Boys’ and the Sad Tale of Sergey Aleynikov

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

I read Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys early last month – I absolutely had to get a copy of the book after I read the NY Times article “The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street”, an adaptation from the book..

Despite the sometimes complicated nature of its main subject – high-frequency trading in a Wall Street that’s rigged – it was a fast and compelling read. And of course, I liked that it was a Canadian, Brad Katsuyama, backed by a Canadian bank, the Royal Bank of Canada (employees called the culture there “RBC nice” – not, as you might guess, a usual kind of moniker on Wall Street), who gets the ball rolling.  Katsuyama realizes that every time he’d put in an order to buy shares on the market – shares that were up for sale right up to the point he pushed the button to enter his order – the shares would disappear and the price of the stock would increase.

“Brad’s problem wasn’t just Brad’s problem. What people saw when they looked at the U.S. stock market – the numbers on the screens of the professional traders, the ticker tape running across the bottom of the CNBC screen – was an illusion. ‘That’s when I realized the markets are rigged. And I knew it had to do with the technology. That the answer lay beneath the surface of the technology. I had absolutely no idea where. But that’s when the lightbulb went off that the only way I’m going to find out what’s going on is if I go beneath the surface.’” (from Flash Boys)

Katsuyama faces a somewhat Herculean task: he wants to find out how this is being done, and once he finds out, he wants to let people know. And he wants to find a way to fix things. The culprits, it turns out, are high-frequency traders who have managed to achieve a speed of access to information that gives them the mere nanoseconds advantage they need to beat the market every single time.

Eventually, Katsuyama manages to find other like-minded people and together they put together IEX, a new, fair stock exchange that the high-frequency traders can’t game. Katsuyama’s new exchange opened on October 25, 2013 and two months later, on December 19, got its big break when one of the big Wall Street banks, Goldman Sachs, sent in the exchange’s first big orders.

Since this is non-fiction, there’s no real happy-ever-after ending, which I found a little unsatisfying, although the book isn’t to blame. It’s just real life, that’s all, real life with all its uncertainties. So it’s still an uphill battle for IEX. And while IEX might be one small bright spot of fairness on Wall Street, there will always be more loopholes and more people ready and willing to take advantage of the loopholes to make billions of dollars.

It’s a never-ending story, really.

This main story in Flash Boys is an interesting one, but ultimately it was the story of Sergey Aleynikov that really captured my attention. While Goldman Sachs plays what’s essentially a good-guy role when it comes to IEX, it plays a darker role in its pursuit of criminal charges against Aleynikov, it’s ex-programmer, for theft of its code. In an article at Vanity Fair last year, Michael Lewis wrote about Aleynikov’s plight, and much of what’s in this article also appears in Flash Boys. (I highly recommend it – it’s a great read. Among other things, Lewis “re-tries” Aleynikov before a “jury” of his tech-savvy peers.)

Aleynikov was hired by Goldman Sachs to maintain its high-frequency trading software; the software itself was in the dinosaur stages, but Goldman didn’t want to build a new one from scratch. So Aleynikov spent much of his time patching things up as required.

During his two years at Goldman, Aleynikov often, as programmers do, sent himself snippets of code by uploading to an online repository. He was eventually hired by another firm to design a powerful new trading system from scratch (and in a completely different coding language, no less, which rather puts the charges against him in a whole different kind-of-ridiculous context). In the weeks prior to leaving Goldman, as he helped to bring others up to speed with maintaining Goldman’s outdated system, he continued this practice of sending himself snippets of code:

“The files contained a lot of open-source code he had worked with, and modified, over the past two years, mingled together with code that wasn’t open source but proprietary to Goldman Sachs. As he would later try and fail to explain to an F.B.I. agent, he hoped to disentangle the one from the other, in case he needed to remind himself how he had done what he had done with the open-source code, in the event he might need to do it again. He sent these files the same way he had sent himself files nearly every week, since his first month on the job at Goldman.” (from Vanity Fair)

Now, this makes perfect sense to me, and I’m not even a programmer. Mucking around with the HTML and PHP on this and a few other blogs is the extent of my coding experience. And the thing is, a lot of it wasn’t even Goldman’s original code – it was open source:

“Serge quickly discovered, to his surprise, that Goldman had a one-way relationship with open source. They took huge amounts of free software off the Web, but they did not return it after he had modified it, even when his modifications were very slight and of general, rather than financial, use.” (from Flash Boys)

(It all sounds quite familiar in the wake of the recent Heartbleed virus, doesn’t it? It seems lots of for-profit companies do this when it comes to open source code – they take and they don’t give back.)

So what happened? Aleynikov got charged under two rather ominous sounding pieces of legislation, the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 and the National Stolen Property Act, and after a trial by a non-tech-savvy jury, was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. He won his appeal and was released after a year of imprisonment – the appeals court ruled that the laws under which he was charged didn’t actually apply to his case.

But his story doesn’t end there. After Aleynikov’s release, Goldman Sachs continued its attack against its former programmer. A few months after his release, the state of New York charged Aleynikov with “accessing and duplicating a complex proprietary and highly confidential computer source code owned by Goldman Sachs” – essentially, a new crime for the same actions, so as to avoid double jeopardy.

So there isn’t any real ending to Aleynikov’s story either, at least not yet. The state of New York wants him to plead guilty, in exchange for letting him go on time served – as in, the time he served for a crime that the appeals court had already determined he hadn’t committed. But Aleynikov isn’t willing to do that, and really, can you blame him?

[TSS] Napping after ‘American Gods’

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Last month, while still in the heat of deadlines, I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods over the course of ten days. Normally, for a book of this length (the version I read was 588 pages) it would have taken me about two days to finish, but since I was in the middle of deadlines, I didn’t have as much reading time as I would have liked.

Also, I found myself reading every single word, slowly, letting myself be pulled into the atmosphere of the book. Gaiman’s writing is like that, I find; where I’m usually one to gallop through a book, flipping pages, inhaling the story, with his books I tend to take my time. The whole thing becomes quite a joyous ramble.

Over those ten days of reading American Gods, I had two Saturdays during which I was able to devote a good five to six hours to the book. On Saturday mornings I take my son to drama class and then to dance class; consequently, I have time to read while I’m waiting for the classes to finish. That first Saturday, I continued with my reading of American Gods, and, as often happens when I dip into a good book for an extended period of time, when we got home, I picked up the book again and kept reading.

I’m normally a late riser, so another thing happens most Saturdays. By around three or four in the afternoon, I’m tired, and in need of a nap. On that Saturday, I read American Gods until I was in danger of dozing off, and then I did what I normally do on Saturday afternoons. I took a nap.

And I dreamt about American Gods. Not the characters, or the story, but the book itself, the atmosphere woven by the words, the greyness, that sense of something real underlying the not real underlying the real.

It was truly the most awesome thing ever. And, I thought, probably something that wouldn’t happen again.

Except that it did. The next Saturday followed the same pattern – I devoted another five or six hours to American Gods, and then I slept, and I dreamt, and it was the same dream. There I was, deep inside the landscape of American Gods.

I’ve never experienced this before, but I know one thing. At whatever future date I reread American Gods (and I expect I will), I’m going to sleep right after. Because that dream was amazing, and I’d love to have it again.

Gaiman’s words are really magical.

[TSS] Recently Read

I’ve been busy with work deadlines lately, but looking back on what I’ve been reading, it seems audiobooks have come to the rescue! With audiobooks, I’m never “too tired to read”, so it’s been a great way to keep reading despite putting in loads of work hours every day towards my deadlines.

One of my reading resolutions this year is to keep track of what I’ve been reading. In past years I haven’t been that diligent, despite various Goodreads and Pinterest lists. So I thought for today’s Sunday Salon, I’d post an update as to what I’ve recently read.

police by jo nesboPolice, by Jo Nesbo. The latest instalment (#10) in the Harry Hole series, when my copy arrived at the library, I knew I had to drop everything to read it. I took a day off working on my deadlines, and devoured this one. The gist of the plot: someone is murdering police officers at the sites of old unsolved murders in which the officers were involved in investigating, but there’s a whole lot more going on which I really can’t mention for fear of spoilers. Lots and lots of twists, right down to the very end. This was one very enjoyable, suspenseful read.
no mans nightingale by ruth rendellNo Man’s Nightingale, by Ruth Rendell. In this latest instalment of the Wexford series, former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford is settling into retirement, working on his goal of reading all volumes of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. When Kingsmarkham vicar Sarah Hussein is murdered, though, Wexford is glad to have Detective Inspector Mike Burden pull him into a consulting role in the investigation. There’s a flaw in one of the premises Rendell uses (she states that two brown-eyed parents cannot have a blue-eyed child, which is not true, as two brown-eyed parents both having a recessive blue eye gene can have a blue-eyed child) so if errors like this annoy you, this might put you off a bit. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable read with a nice twist at the end.
the invisible code by christopher fowlerThe Invisible Code, by Christopher Fowler. In this latest instalment of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, the elderly detective duo of Bryant and May are asked by their old adversary, Oskar Kasavian, to find out why Oskar’s beautiful young wife has been behaving in such an odd and bizarre way. As always with this series, there are many strange goings-on, including an unexplainable murder and codes and symbols, plus lots of nice twists. Lots of laugh out loud moments, too. I started this one in print format, but finished up by listening to the audio version narrated by Tim Goodman, who did a great job.
bryant and may off the rails by christopher fowlerBryant and May Off the Rails, by Christopher Fowler. It seems I’m working backwards through this series, after having read most of the earlier books back to back quite a few years ago.  The Peculiar Crimes Unit has arrested the murderous Mr. Fox, only to have him break out, killing one of their own in the process. The chase is on, and we are lead through the shadowy corners of the London Underground. As always with the quirky Bryant and May detective duo, there are some very complicated twists and skillfully-placed laughs. I did this one entirely in audio, narrated by Tim Goodman, who once again does a great job with Bryant and May.
killer by jonathan kellermanKiller, by Jonathan Kellerman. It was good to see Alex Delaware back in form in this latest instalment of the series. Things start out slower than they do in most of the other books in the series, with Alex embroiled in a probate case involving the fight between two sisters for the custody of one sister’s child. But soon enough, there’s a murder, and Alex works with his old friend Detective Milo Sturgis to unravel the clues. This one’s not as intricately plotted as some of the older books, and the unveiling of “whodunnit” is a little bit out of the blue, but still it was an enjoyable read.
blood and circuses by kerry greenwoodBlood and Circuses, by Kerry Greenwood. In this earlier book (#6) in Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, someone’s been sabotaging Farrell’s Circus, and Phryne leaves behind the comforts of life, her title and her money in order to go undercover to find out why. Throw in the murder of a circus performer and some nasty characters from the Melbourne underworld, and Phryne’s in for an interesting ride. As usual with the Phryne Fisher series, there are sex scenes, although perhaps a little less than in some of the later books in the series. I could have done without the sex scenes myself, but they didn’t wreck my enjoyment of the book. I listened to this one in audio, narrated by the delightful Stephanie Daniel.
bryant and may on the looseBryant and May on the Loose, by Christopher Fowler. I continued to move backwards through the series with Bryant and May on the Loose (#7 in the series) in audio, narrated excellently once again by Tim Goodman, although this one was a reread. I was enjoying the audio versions so much, I decided to get this one, and then as I started listening, I realized I’d read the book before – but long enough ago, I didn’t recall how things ended.  In this book, #7 in the series, the Peculiar Crimes Unit has been disbanded despite their success in solving the bizarre crimes that have come their way in the past. But the discovery of a headless corpse by one of the unit’s members gives them the chance to persuade the Home Office to change its mind – as long as they can solve the case in a week. To complicate matters, there have also been a number of bizarre sightings of a half-man half-stag creature with knives for antlers who has been carrying off young women. Intricately plotted with lots of twists, this was another enjoyable listen.
the memory of blood by christopher fowlerThe Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler. I obviously have no problems reading a series out of order! This one is #9 in the series, but yes, I listened to this one after listening to Bryant and May on the Loose above. This one involves a locked room mystery: the young son of a theatre owner is, seemingly impossibly, killed in his bedroom during a cast party held in his father’s home. The only clue is a life-size puppet of Mr. Punch which the killer has left behind. Along with yet another complicated plot, there’s quite a bit of history of the origins of Punch and Judy, but the information is weaved seamlessly into the plot. Another fun and enjoyable listen!

So that’s what I’ve read so far in the past four weeks or so. I see now that I’ve been focused exclusively on mysteries, but I’m breaking the trend right now, as I’m a currently a third of the way into Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

What have you been reading lately? If you’ve read any of the books on my recently read list, what did you think of them?

A (Sort of) Bookish Blast From the Past

Earlier last week, my sister Dawn posted a couple of pictures to Facebook that were definitely a bookish blast from the past.

Well, sort of. Because, unfortunately, I have no memories of giving her this book:

tennyson1

Dawn also posted a picture of the post-it note I’d stuck inside:

tennyson2

The note did jog some memories. I still don’t remember actually buying this book for my sister, who would have been in her mid-teens at the time (the "at school" bit means I was in university). But I do remember strolling through a huge book sale at one time or other during my university years – in my mind’s eye, I can see these long tables stacked with books, in a large room somewhere. I think the book sale might have been held at University College at the University of Toronto, which is my alma mater, but my memories of the event are terribly vague so I’m not very certain about that.

What makes me laugh, though, is this, from my note: "It’s kind of tattered, but it’s really old."

I obviously was worried my teenaged little sister would unwrap her gift and go, "Ugh. Why did Belle get me a used book?" So I was already protesting in advance – Yes, it’s tattered, but Dawn, that’s just because it’s really really old!

What possessed me to buy an old book of Tennyson’s poems for my sports-loving little sister who wasn’t really hooked on reading, I don’t know. But it’s sweet that she still has the book – and that she kept my little note!

These days, though, Dawn is a reader, so maybe somehow that younger me saw this happening, and knew Tennyson’s poems would be something she’d treasure one day …

Five on the Go–The Fiction Edition

For an extremely brief moment on the morning of January 1, 2014, I considered the following resolution: I will read only one book at a time.

Hahahaha!

I think it took all of two seconds for me to realize how horridly I’d fail at such a resolution. And so, thankfully, I didn’t add that to my 2014 list of intentions.

Which turns out to be a very a good thing, since I currently have five novels on the go, and I’m very happy with all my selections. I’d hate to have started out the new year with such a big resolution-fail.

The really nice thing is that a couple of the books I have on the go are outside my normal "reading zone", and I’m really enjoying them. (My reading zone typically consists of mysteries, urban fantasies, and middle grade fiction.)

Print Books and Ebooks on the Go

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I’ve been reading, and loving, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. While it might technically be called a mystery, I guess, it really isn’t, and it’s far more literary than most of the books I read. I find I prefer reading The Goldfinch in small, delicious chunks, with my notebook at hand, ready to scribble down phrases that captivate me. I don’t normally read like this, and I’m finding I really like it, for a change of pace from my normal reading method, where I devour the story and turn the pages as quickly as I can.

the signature of all things by elizabeth gilbert

The other book I’m reading that’s outside my normal reading zone is Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s described as "a glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge" and seriously, I hardly ever read books that are glorious and sweeping novels of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge. Also, it’s historical fiction, and I generally tend to steer clear of historical fiction.

But I’m loving it! Gilbert’s writing is sumptuous but oh-so-readable, and she drew me in from the very first chapter. The unfortunate thing with this book is I have it on loan from the Toronto Public Library’s ebook selection, which doesn’t allow for renewals (not that I’d be able to renew this one anyway, as it’s got a holds list). I’ll probably end up buying the ebook so I can finish it.

the invisible code by christopher fowler

Moving on, back into my reading zone, I’ve been delighting myself with the latest and deliciously quirky Bryant and May book, The Invisible Code: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery, by Christopher Fowler. I’ve read several of the books in this series (not in order, though …) and each one is always such fun. The Invisible Code is no exception, and it’s fun to see Bryant and May, both "senior" detectives – especially Bryant – ambling through the world of cellphones and Facebook.

Audiobooks on the Go

I also have a couple of novels going in audio.

dry bones by peter may

I started listening to Peter May’s Dry Bones, narrated by Simon Vance. This is my introduction to Scottish forensic scientist and biologist Enzo Macleod (and it’s the first in the series – finally, I’m starting a series at the beginning!). I’m only a couple of chapters in so far, and am enjoying Vance’s narration immensely.

prisoners base by rex stout

And I’m near the end of Prisoner’s Base, a Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout, narrated by Michael Pritchard. This is a reread in audio; like the Agatha Christie mysteries, I’ve listened to all the audio versions currently available (that I can find, anyway) of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Along with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, they are what I like to call my "comfort listens" – I can have them on in the background even when I’m working, because I already know the stories so well. I can tune in and tune out, filling in the blanks whenever needed!

What about you? What are you currently reading, fiction-wise? Do you stick with one book, or are you more comfortable having several on the go?