Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Forever books

This title might indicate that I'm gonna hop on my hobbyhorse and extol the the virtues of books. Not e-books, books. Although I do espouse this belief, I will save it for another time.

My concern today is all those books I have been reading forever. And ever. Ones I never seem to finish. Those thick, scholarly books I like and want to read but can't seem to hang on to for the long haul. I have devised a cunning plan to finally zip through these forever books in one year.

Yes one year. It's taken me five or more years to get where I am right now. In 11 short months, I will be finished. It's an amazing thought.

This list of forever books includes: The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama, An Outline of History by H. G. Wells, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, and Blake by Peter Ackroyd. The one closest to being done is Blake. The one least closest to being done is Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.

What is this plan? I added all the extant pages together, divided by 366, and came up with . . . 5. If I read 5 pages in one of these books every day, I will be done December 31. Not 5 in each. No 5 pages a day. How hard can that be?

And it turns out, not very difficult at all. I am ahead of the requirement. I've continued to read other books--25 of them so far. At the end or beginning of each day, I read at least 5 pages in one of the forever books. Instead of trying to read information-laden pages of 50 or so at a time, I read 5. I look up maps. I look up terms. I read all the footnotes. I savor the 5 pages.

Suddenly, it seems doable. And I'm enjoying the forever books so much more this way. It doesn't weigh me down to see the 1150 pages of Rebecca West staring at me. I delight in a short chapter on Dalmatia and the next day read Wells talking about Greece. Or Schama on the Dutch.

It turns out that forever means one year. And all of them will be finished. All of them.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fan Girl Goes to Bouchercon, Part 2

By Jody Speer
I almost skipped Bouchercon this year. The economy isn't looking so good, work was piling up, we had obligations. It seemed like an indulgence. It turned out to be a necessity.

St. Louis itself turned out to be a fabulous host city. The hotel was within walking distance of many restaurants and shops. We tried out Stefano's, Mosaic, Copia, Rooster, and Sen. All fabulous. We particularly liked Mosaic for indulging our ordering preference. We wanted to do small cold plates first, then see how many small hot plates we wanted after finishing the cold. They were fine with that. And a huge shout out to Copia for accomodating our group's vegetarian. Wow. Bringing plates out in the right order so that we all ate together was quite a juggling act, and it was managed expertly.

And then there was the conference. All panels and events were held in the adjoining convention center. My immediate reaction was that this would be an absolute pain. It wasn't. You knew where you had to go and how to get there. Signs were posted at critical junctures like the escalators so you knew where to go. After one panel, it was effortless. And the hotel staff were helpful at every turn. Our experience with the concierge desk was excellent for finding lunch on Thursday. My only complaint with the hotel was my usual with large hotels -- give me free something. I was surprised we weren't charged extra for breathing. And $20 for one for breakfast buffet? Seriously? But can't pick on the conference hotel that much. All hotels of a certain size do this.

But I'd rather concentrate on the high points of the conference. Too rich with experience.

First, the bowling. An event to raise money for the library. A good cause. And slightly boring. Uh no. First we chose Team Talent to root for and tweet about. Team talent consisted of Mark Billingham, John "I Suck" Connolly, Laura "Nine Pins" Lippman, Karin Slaughter, Martyn Waites, and Jeff Tindall. For three hours, they poured heart and soul into trying desperately to bowl a decent game. Laura hit 9 pins. Every time. It was eerie. Of course that was 9 more than John hit. And damn, Mark can bowl. Martyn was receiving unsolicited advice from Val McDermid. Many adult words. Many adult beverages. Watching someone bowl sounds boring. It's not. John came up to us at a break and said "I'm glad you are being entertained because I'm not." Yes, we were entertained.

After the bowling, we watched Joe Finder try to hold his own with Val McDermid, Laurie King, Laura Lippman, and S. J. Rozan. Not a pretty sight. Post-bowling slaughter. They did give him a bottle of Crown Royal afterward to ease the pain.

I've been to several mystery conferences including one other Bouchercon. This takes the prize for the most accessible authors. They would patiently talk to you when you descended on them, gawky and tongue-tied. So warm. So nice. Thank you Val for you patience and forbearance. It was almost more than I could do to approach in the first place.

The panels I attended were thoughtful. In every sense. Every moderator was prepared (not always the case), and the authors gave real answers that didn't necessarily include a plug for their newest book-. Well, after the smart-ass answer, of course. I found insight into many aspects of publishing, including the demands of American publishers upon UK writers. I wanted to call Mark Billingham's American publisher and say, "I'm a big girl. I understand that that they say boot for car trunk. And petrol for gas. And I know what a roundabout is. If I don't, I can look it up, and I SHOULD HAVE TO." These expressions are what make this book British. I don't want them to sound American. If I don't understand something, I'll figure it out. And I'd read different authors if I didn't want to try to make this leap. Please dumb down for someone else.

Lagniappe from the conference -- meeting Avery Aames and Julie Hyzy in the bar after their panel. They brought snacks. And were delightful. Julie had me when she alluded to Pollyana, my all time favorite movie. Free books over and above the books bags. Yes I'll take a Carol O'Connell ARC please. Martyn Waites being the nicest guy on earth. Paragraghs at the book store reading being so intriguing. Discussing clothing with Deborah Crombie. Dancing with Carl Brookins. Dinner with Kent Krueger. Meeting Al Abramson and learning about Bouchercon Albany.

The piece de resistance -- Roy Orbison as interpreted by Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. Too wonderful. Song has been stuck in my head ever since. Of course, so has I Saw Her Standing There. Thank you, Mr. Billingham.

Jon, Ruth, and Judy did a bang up job entertaining, educating, and enthralling the mystery readers and writers. What a great conference.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Confessions of the Non-Serial Reader

By David
I'm a mystery/crime reader who is not big on novel series. (Full disclosure: I stopped reading Lee Child's Jack Reacher books in the middle of Nothing to Lose and haven't gone back. I may be the only person in the world who can say "I stopped reading Reacher." Not something I'm bragging about, by the way.) I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out which one or two books I should sample from a series to try out writers.
I know it's just me and that I'm out of step with most other mystery readers who just can't wait for the next Poirot novel by Agatha Christie to come out. Imagine. Me. Out of step. Go figure.
There are writers who I enjoy reading their standalone books but can't really get into their series character. Laura Lippman, for example. And some writers, I slurp down all the books in a series in what seems to me like a single gulp. The Dave Brandstetter novels by Joe Hansen.
My brainy wife and blogmate can sit down and rip through an entire series by an author in a week and enjoy every one of them. She can read authors who have multiple series (in order, in a row), enjoy all the books, and even keep the characters straight. See Charlaine Harris and her characters Sookie Stackhouse, Aurora Teagarden, and Lily Bard.
I've tried to devise the best way to try out mystery series. I've failed.
Here's why. I don't think that the first book in a series is necessarily the best place to start. Ian Rankin wrote in The Lineup: the world's greatest crime writers tell the inside story of their greatest detectives (edited by Otto Penzler) that he thinks that Knots and Crosses is in some ways too literary. That Rebus knows books a detective in his position, with his background shouldn't know. So that may not be the best introduction to the series.
Some authors definitely get better as they go. Some hit it for a six their first time at the crease. How do you know?
So, where do you start with a series detective? Whose word do you take that this would be the place to first encounter Lord Peter Whimsey or Travis McGee or Stephanie Plum? Luck? Trial and error?
So I turn to you, mystery and crime readers. Help me out here. Suggestions for series to sample and one (or two) books from that series as a place to start?