Friday, January 29, 2016

In Defense of Crap

In 2008, the Nashville Public Library honored John Irving with their Literary Award. The morning of the award gala, Irving spoke about books and writing at the Ryman. Near the end of the Q&A session, a teenage girl asked the ubiquitous question: "How do I become a writer?" Irving told her she must read, read, read, and then he said something that became my personal reading mantra: "Being well-read is the best defense against crap."

But folks, today I come to defense of crap. 

Just before Christmas, I was killing time in a San Francisco bookstore while Ken finished his Christmas shopping*, and I saw a book recommended "for those waiting on Downton Abbey to return." What's this? A book for Downton fans? I am a Downton fan. So I bought a copy of Rhys Bowen's A Royal Pain

Y'all. The series is called Her Royal Spyness. Because the protagonist is a down-on-her-luck Lady Georgiana, and she solves murders that keep happening around her. HA! These books are not great literature. They do not have themes or motifs. Each book repeats Lady Georgiana's basic facts (her mother was an actress, her father lost their fortune, her great-great grandmother was Queen Victoria) because as long as you know her general penniless but royal siuation, you can dive right in anywhere in the series. And I know this because I've read ALL BUT ONE of them. That's eight Her Royal Spynesses. I can't stop! They're like book candy. And Georgie (as her friends call her) has a not-quite-solidified relationship with a man named Darcy. Darcy! For Pete's sake. 

You know what makes it worse? I'm on book five of Bowen's Constable Evans series! Constable Evans works in a small Welsh village called Llanfair, and while he's merely a village constable, he solves murders that keep happening around him. And he has a not-quite-solidified relationship with a schoolteacher named Bronwyn. Each book is prefaced with a list of Welsh words and phrases, their meanings, and their pronunciations. Almost everyone in the town is an Evans, so they're called "Evans-the-Law" and "Evans-the-Milk" and "Evans-the-Meat**." I. Can't. Even. 

A few Constable Evanses ago, I decided to let go and let God. And I started Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series. 

Maybe "crap" isn't the right term for my new loves. Compared to my usual picks--Jhumpa Lahiri, the Brontes, Eudora Welty***--they are juvenile. But they're well-written stories, albeit kind of see-through and silly. But dang it, there are certain reading times that just call for a murder-solving cousin of the king. 

What are your favorites that fall in the, shall we say, "lightweight" realm? (You have them, right? Please say you have them.)

*He was buying my engagement ring, but I didn't know that at the time, of course.
**Minds out of the gutter, he's the butcher.
***Eudora Welty short stories only. It took me a long time to admit I don't really like her novels. The admission was quite freeing.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To Be or Not To Be

Hi! Charlie here. Last time, I wrote about the cool interactive fiction called "80 Days." A fantastic little app that I thought built a pretty compelling world using not much more than the written word, it nonetheless may have been a bit too "gamey" for some.

Now, I come to you with a DIFFERENT sort of interactive novel: Ryan North's "To Be or Not To Be." This one is a real-life, honest-to-god book you can buy, OR (and this is what I recommend) you get the much cheaper app version for your phone.

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? It's one of those, but as a genuinely hilarious retelling of Hamlet. 

How it works is: you pick your character (Hamlet, Ophelia, or King Hamlet). The plot unfolds then as Shakespeare intended (though paraphrased in hyper-casual modern English) but every so often you're given two or three choices for how to continue. The story can spin out of control from there. And by out of control, I mean out of control. (On one of my reads, King Hamlet's ghost went exploring for sunken pirate treasure on the bottom of the ocean.)

The choices you're given can result in very different endings. For instance: has Hamlet's tragic flaw of inaction always frustrated you? Well, how about you just go kill Claudius from the very beginning? You can do that! Has the somewhat troubling and outdated views of female sexuality made you bristle? Well Ophelia can become a super-smart inventor who doesn't take crap from any man! It's smart, well-written, and really funny. Like, actual laugh-out-loud funny.

I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a long time. And it is an actual book, so if you're not into games at all, still give this a shot!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Literary Character Party: Crowdsourcing my Costume

Please share your ideas of what you would be and what I should be for this event. Details preferred on how to pull off the suggested costumes.

Full disclosure: I might be out of town for this party, but I want to hear from the readers of this blog.

Current front-running ideas from others (based on ease of costume and the fact the party will be full of Millennials):
Fern from Charlotte's Web
Katniss from The Hunger Games 

What say you, Le Book Chat friends?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Reading Challenge Accepted

I was thinking of what my reading goals should be for the new year when I received the latest blog post. Perfect timing! I set a goal for 2015 to read 50 books and surpassed that easily. I wanted something more than just a book total for this year and a goal that may help me clear out the large stack of books I've accumulated.

My plan so far for the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge . . .

A book you've been meaning to read--Pride and Prejudice. I love all things P & P so it is long past time to read this classic.

A book you should have read in high school--Jane Eyre. This book meets about four of the categories but I picked this one because it was required reading and I just could not get through it. Hopefully, I've matured a little since then and will be able to finish and enjoy it.

A book chosen by spouse, best friend, etc--A Walk in the Woods. Two great friends and my husband highly recommend this one.

A book published before you were born--The House of Mirth. Another goal of reading classics.

A book you previously abandoned--The Wind in the Willows. This is listed as a celebrated work of literature but I could not get into it. I want to finish it and hopefully read with my daughter.

A book you own but have never read--The Angel's Game. I loved Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon). It was such a beautiful love story to books. This book is a companion to SOTW and not as good reviews which is why it's lingered in the stack so long.

A book that intimidates you--A Voice in the Wind (Mark of the Lion #1). It seems so overwhelming but trusted friends rave about this series. I typically do not enjoy Christian fiction but Redeeming Love and Lineage of Grace were so good that I trust Francine Rivers.

A book you've already read--Crazy Ladies. Obviously, I need to re-read this one. I told a friend that it was so funny. She quickly let me know that so far there was rape, murder and divorce. Hmm. So, I call my Auntie and mention the book and she says, "oh that was so funny". Are we the crazy ladies?

I'm sure the rest of the categories will fill out as the year goes on. I still set a book total goal through Goodreads but definitely more excited about this one.

What about you? What categories have you filled in?