Archives for posts with tag: reading

This article is an old book and old movie lover’s dream. Names like Woolf, Dickens, Forster, and Bronte are scattered throughout, like beautiful, slow burning leaves flavoring autumn with their timeless scent. Their related books are the crispness in the air. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Mrs. Ramsey, her family and their guests, Mr. Wilcox and his younger bride overshadowed by his late wife…these are the people of some of my favorite literary treasures. They all leave their footprints preserved in this article, along with the houses that serve, in their way, as characters as well. Some of the houses that inspired stories like Howards End, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre are described in a way that brings back memories of reading the novels and wanting to read them again. My favorite segment is about Talland House that inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There’s a black and white picture of the actual house that makes me wish I was in Cornwall, so I could photograph it myself and perhaps look to the lighthouse from the garden. Some of the article’s descriptions evoke imagery from the books or scenes from screen adaptations. Reading it is a mental tour through cherished places brought to life by authors with often surprising connections to their characters’ homes.


Anyone who’s read my musings here for any length of time will have noticed that I’m interested in a very wide variety of topics. That interest in just about everything started when reading classics like Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities as a kid. It spread, as opportunities for travel grew as an adult, and became pretty much a cofoundation of my life with writing once telling stories decided to become my life. Today, TV, movies, and the internet, along with books, feed my voracious appetite for information. What better time for an information junkie to be on the planet than during our great Information Age?

Two of my particular sources of fascination have long been medical science and ocean travel. Sailing ships and their adventures are attractive for their drama and romance. The concept of transferring navigating the globe in vessels of canvas and wood lends itself perfectly to extrapolation into space. Trade the canvas and wood for titanium and transparent aluminum, and you’ve hitched your wagon to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, though he used the analogy of a wagon train traveling the great unknown. Some of us are born adventurers, whose passion for the stuff of myth and dreams leads us to explore space in our minds and on paper…and for some lucky few, in real life. As writers of science fiction, we may invent diseases horrific and space born, but none may be more horrific or devastating than the one I just read about in this National Geographic article.

Often I don’t eat very much at all or enough fruits and vegetables. If left to my natural appetite, I eat one carb heavy meal a day, with a little grazing on the side. I have had the habit of making jokes about it, saying something like: “Time to eat a salad or some fruit. Don’t want to give myself scurvy!” After reading this article, I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to make light of such a terrible illness.

I’ve known about scurvy since ninth grade general science. Rickets too, which led to a similar joke, because I don’t like to drink milk. The very idea of scurvy carried a slight air of mystery and romance, because of its connection to sailing expeditions. Ninth grade children weren’t informed in their textbooks of just what it did to the human body. Now that I’ve been enlightened, all traces of romance and mystery have disappeared. All that’s left is an education on an obscure medical crisis that was also absolute tragedy.

Some of my favorite fiction to write involves medical backdrops. I have a feeling a space faring version of scurvy now lurks in my futuristic writing future. Anything can be expanded on, tangented from, and transferred to space. Scurvy included, though it’s going to be hard to “improve” on this very real horror from our earthbound past.

Ever drawn to Victoriana, as a writer I was particularly interested in this article about the lives of Victorian writers. Apparently, the writing life dragged a comet tail of hardship in its wake in Dickens’ time, just as it has done since writers started telling stories. It’s difficult to believe that Dickens had no formal education. His writing is as evocative and often heartbreaking today, as it was when he first set pen to paper. Somehow I find it easier to imagine Brontes working as governesses, fitting in their writing as the demands of caring for children not their own allowed. For as long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve found myself imagining favorite authors’ lives, as they gathered ideas and started putting together their famous plots. Articles like this one make that more vivid, and also make me admire them all the more.

​Well, that explains it. 

Okay, not really. I’m not quite the poster child for modern day bibliomania. This article certainly resonated, though. 

I love books. Unabashedly. Unequivocally. Sometimes unreal-ly. 

Most of my paper paramours are fiction, after all.

Growing up in a rural area, where the school library was more like a closet, was both a blessing and a curse. Once book fever hit me as a teen, I was able to blaze through most of the available books that appealed to me in any way. I devoured the typical books about girls and their horses, romance novels, and westerns. Things slowed down a bit, once I resorted to the available classics. The Bronte sisters and Dickens will slow most readers’ roll along the lines of printed words, at least until they find their feet, so to speak. Eventually, I bought up the meager supply of paperbacks available locally, and supplemented my voracious intake with Shakespeare from my high school literature text book. A sympathetic library lady, who sporadically made piles of books magically appear through the gift of a visiting bookmobile, was my eventual hero.

Fast forward to learning that growing up did not mean abandoning books. In fact, the desire to read increased exponentially to the more broad availability of material that came to me in my travels. And wherever I  went, I found used book stores and library sales. Yes. I graduated to collecting. 
Early on, I could buy, cull, purge, buy…an endless loop of words. Eventually, I developed areas of interest and found myself reading and owning hundreds of books. I love the way they look, feel, and of course smell. Holding a brand new book for a reverent moment, then cracking it open for the first the is a distinctive pleasure, as is hefting an antique Hamlet, caressing its time worn cover, and reading its time tested words.

There was one occasion when I think I almost crossed over to the dark side of true bibliomania. Long ago, in a library far, far away there was no used book sale. There was just me, perusing the stacks, and finding a long sought after book that I desperately wanted. For a moment…a single flash of obsessive compulsive book lust overcame me and in that flash I contemplated stealing the book. I literally mean a flash. The thought crossed my mind, then, aghast, I dropped the book as if it was the Hope Diamond and I was a recovered jewel thief. A hasty exit and no other such experience, ever. But that tiny incident makes me acutely sensitive to the dangers of obsession and the way the drive for acquisition can taint the most innocent of souls. 

So, I have sympathy and empathy and any other appropriate “athy” emotion for the bibliomaniacs of yore. Especially at the moment. I’m going through my books, and trying very hard to cull and purge and donate. It’s hard. I love having my beloved books lined up on shelves, always at the reading ready, always there to remind me of some fantastic voyage into an author’s mind. I’ve finally come to realize that owning a book I didn’t really like, just to have it for my collection, isn’t what a true book lover’s collection is all about. That is about finding what you love, keeping it, and treasuring it. Much like any other relationship.

The vital key is to drop a book into the donation pile, when I know I don’t really want it for anything other than the art of possession. When a truly unwanted book even gives off the most vague of “My precious…” vibes, it’s time to drop kick it into a volcano and go watch a movie from my gigantic DVD collection…sigh.

I literally just finished The Shifting Tide moments ago. I’ve written here before about how much I love Anne Perry’s books, the William Monk series in particular. This one is my favorite of them all. So far anyway.

Former policeman Monk is a man with little past. He started out after a terrible carriage accident with no memory at all, but slowly bits of the life he no longer remembers fully return to him. In large part he is an enigma to himself.

His wife Hester is a fiercely independent woman, a nurse who served in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale. Together they have built a life of fierce love and joy, and hardwon happiness. Monk scrapes together a living as a private detective, while Hester sacrifices her own safety to help those less fortunate. They are a match like no other, and in The Shifting Tide they very nearly lose everything dear to them. The most dear being each other.

Especially with my head still so filled with imagery and action and dialogue and story from this novel, it’s tempting to go deeply onto the details that made me love it so much, but I want to leave all that a mystery for readers to discover for themselves, as is fitting for such
a wonderful mystery novel.

The thing is that Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries go far beyond the genre used to describe them. They are fascinatingly historical, filled with action and adventure, often laced liberally with travel, and always deeply romantic. They defy pigeonholing in such a way that fans of myriad genres could easily fall in love with them. Especially the Monk series, as they venture well into the realm of medical drama as well.

I think what has made me so enthralled with The Shifting Tide is the way this one novel encompasses all of the genres I just listed, and in such a way that reading it made me feel as if I was actually there on the great Thames with Monk and in the cesspool that the splendour of London hid behind its genteel facade with Hester. Exhilarating, terrifying, beautiful, and awful…it’s all there. For me all of Anne Perry’s Victorian gems are like that, but The Shifting Tide stands out as something special that demands special attention.

I also must say that Anne Perry’s writing always makes me read it with a writer’s eye, even as I become so deeply involved in the story. She is one of those authors I both admire and envy. Which means that while I feel it unlikely that I will ever reach the heights of the beauty of her prose, I find myself striving toward the shining example of the excellence of it. Simply put, reading her writing makes me a better writer. My dreamy writerly hope right now is to someday make a reader feel as I did while reading The Shifting Tide.

Anything related to Virginia Woolf catches my eye and I am drawn into a closer look. This piece from Brain Pickings quotes from Mrs. Dalloway, my favorite of her books so far, which gives me a little thrill.

That’s something I love about Wolf’s writing. All throughout a passage, a chapter, a novel, I get little thrills from reading the exquisite beauty of her prose. I have never in any other writer found such consistent beauty. She can take such simple things, like buying flowers or watching a lighthouse as it stands sentinel across the water, and turn them into imagined art. I see what she sees in her mind with my own. My imagery may not exactly match hers, but I see it so vividly it’s as if I am there with her, two minds on literary vacation in an inner landscape. Other authors evoke the sensation, but no other to the same extent as Virginia Woolf.

There’s a deeper element as well. I come to know her characters differently than those of other writers. As if I stand on the porch with Mrs. Ramsay, watching the lighthouse, watching her friends, caring for her family… my lighthouse and friends and family too, while I read about them and care for them.

I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, with more waiting to be read.  This article reminded me of how much I love those books. How much I admire Woolf’s tremendous mind, delicate and fearfully complex at once. Her musings take on an enviable depth and height, with the same quality of other and same that is so striking in her fiction.

I read it with admiration and regret, wondering what more she might have written if she could have lived.

Occasionally the question comes up about any books I would like to see adapted for the screen. My immediate response needs no contemplation at all. Caleb Carr’s The Alienist is one of my favorite novels ever. The characters, Doctor Laszlo Kreizler in particular, leapt off the page to occupy a place in my mind that they simply will not leave. Not that I want them to. The cases, yes. I’m quite happy to have any of those deathly details slip away to never be recalled again. The Alienist and the other Kreizler novel, The Angel of Darkness, delve deeply into the psychology of Victorian serial killers…darkly, gruesomely, and almost too realistically. A writer of Carr’s caliber is capable of drumming real fear and loathing into a reader. His talent is what makes the characters thrum with life and the readers shiver with dread. If only he were as prolific as Anne Perry. Since he isn’t, I’m just glad to have read the two and hope for a third someday.

I was recently trawling Goodwill shelves and stumbled across a cool looking cover. Then I noticed the author’s name and grabbed it. It was The Italian Secretary, a new Sherlock Holmes novel by Caleb Carr. Of course I bought it, thinking it would have to be cool to read Carr’s take on another Victorian detective, the most famous of them all no less, and see how he handled Holmes’ Victorian London and Scotland compared to Doctor Kreizler’s New York. And it was.

The Italian Secretary centers on mysterious deaths at Holyroodhouse, the scene of the violent murder of David Rizzio, a close associate of Mary, Queen of Scots. Holmes and Watson are brought in on the case by Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and much adventure, deduction, and danger ensue. Historical information about Holyroodhouse, Queens Mary (of Scots, not the current Majesty’s grandmother) and Victoria is woven into the fictional tale deftly and fascinatingly.

There is a heavy element of the supernatural here, with much pondering of the nature of such things. I am not at all fond of that topic normally, but I like Carr’s writing so much that I forged ahead anyway. It was spooky at times, without being crawl under the couch scary. As much a study in why and why not as how. The only real complaint I have is that Carr referred to Holmes’ brother as Mycroft Holmes too often for my taste, after having long established his name and their relationship and often also referring to him as simply Mycroft. I can see that it can be tricky, with two heavily used characters being brothers and one often referred to as simply Holmes, in pop culture as well as this book. So it’s a minor thing that might not even bother other readers.

I really enjoyed The Italian Secretary. Probably mostly because I like Carr so much, since I’ve never read much Conan Doyle. I did enjoy the PBS series, starring Jeremy Brett, and I’ve just started watching Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch…love that. Regardless of whether a person is an avid reader of Conan Doyle, the path Sherlock Holmes cuts through the eras since he was first created is wide and unavoidable. Even if that were not the case, Carr does an excellent job of bringing these characters to life for himself and anyone interested in a fascinating look at history, detective work, Victoriana, and storytelling.

The Afterword was a little thrill for fans of The Alienist. Its author, Jon Lellenberg, does a very cool piece of speculation. What if Sherlock Holmes and Laszlo Kreizler met? Would they be able to work together? How would Watson fit in? Or Kreizler’s reporter counterpart John Schuyler Moore? I haven’t a clue, but I would love to find out. Hopefully, someday the possibilities will tempt Caleb Carr to take us on a unique and thrilling literary ride, with Holmes and Kreizler working a case together. The result might not be elementary, but that would be half the fun of watching the potential unravel.