A Quick Look Back
It’s my tradition to begin the blogging year with a look back at the books I’ve read in the year just past. I admit it’s a self indulgence – something I do more for myself than readers of Birth of a Novel. I enjoy looking at my reading journal and savoring the memories it evokes. I’m a bit late looking over 2015 – almost the first quarter of the 2016 is already gone – but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s part of how I move forward. (I guess that tells you how far behind I am in my writing life at the moment.)
Anyway, here goes:
The first book I read in 2015 was Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg. It was a good start to the year. I enjoy her stories for the way they reach into the hearts of ordinary people. Over the course of the year, I read two more books by Berg. It’s hard to resist the temptation of a familiar author, but I also love to discover new voices. Discovery seems to be the theme of the first half of the year. I’d heard about Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (pubbed in 2012) and finally got around to reading it. I liked it so much that I read the next book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy. The others in the series are on my TBR list.
In 2015, I had a great opportunity to discover more new-to-me authors when I was asked to monitor a panel at Malice (more formally known as Domestic Malice, an annual conference of mystery readers and writers). My panel was called It’s All Relative: Dysfunctional Families. I’m sure you can imagine how much we had with that topic. My panelists were Victoria Abbott/Mary Jane Maffini (she writes two series under two different names), Beverly Allen, Maggie Barbieri, and Susannah Hardy. As I said, I wasn’t familiar with any of their works so, in the weeks leading to Malice, I played catch up and read their books. What fun! Four writers with four distinct writing styles, four distinct senses of humor. It was like a crash course in how to write funny – and how different cozies can be. I can honestly say I enjoyed them all and loved getting to know the writers while we shared ideas about how to make the panel interesting and to win new readers for them. That took up most of April and early May. Then I read books by some other relatively new authors, some of whom I met at Malice and some who were members of my own chapter of Sisters in Crime: Jane Kelly, Marilyn Levinson, James M. Jackson, Augustus Cileone. Next, Off Kilter, a memoir by my friend, Linda Wisniewski, finally made it to the top of my TBR pile. Loved it! This is how a memoir should be written – so that it tells not just about the writer’s past, but shows how she is moving forward into her future. Kudos, Linda!
About mid-summer, I became a volunteer at the Pearl S. Buck House and, since then, have usually been engrossed in either a book by her or about her. I didn’t actually re-read all of The Good Earth or Pavilion of Women (one of my all-time favorite books), but I did skim through them to recapture the essence of their stories, then went on to read several new-to-me Buck novels. Among them were Peony, Kinfolk, and Imperial Woman. In addition, I read her memoir, My Several Worlds and Hilary Spurling’s Pearl Buck in China, a biography of the first half of Ms. Buck’s life. Another non-fiction book I enjoyed last year was the autobiography of Agatha Chrisitie. I was struck by the similarities between these two women writers. The details of their lives could hardly be more different, but they were alike in the way they reacted to challenges and unexpected setbacks. Both were strong women who made their own lives.
I read Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman despite the negative things I’d heard about it. (I like to make up my own mind about things.) After I finished, I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird and appreciated it even more. Though Watchman isn’t wonderful in the way that Mockingbird is, reading it added another dimension to the story and to Ms. Lee as a writer. I’m glad I read it.
Of course, there were a fair number of other books. Too many to list, but I will say that I finished my reading year with Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma: A Modern Retelling. What fun. A combination of Austen and Smith. If you enjoy subtlety and humor, it doesn’t get any better.
Did I have a favorite book? That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child.