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Archive for August, 2012

Chacun son goût

My next door neighbours are a couple in their eighties. They’re the best possible sort of neighbours to have in lots of ways. They’re quiet, friendly, warm, and exactly the sort whose home we happily watch when they’re away and who do the same for us. They’re also interesting people. They’re into everything from helping refugees to getting lots of exercise to writing poetry and self-publishing it for their families. They’re computer savvy and independent, and over the years, we’ve talked lots about books, because they’re avid readers.

Until now, we’d only mentioned titles and authors to each other, but after a recent visit, I offered to lend her a couple of books I thought she might enjoy. I picked two: one I liked with a subject I thought would appeal to her, and one that ranks as one of my own favourite reads this year. I didn’t tell her anything about the books when I dropped them off.

This morning, she brought them back. The first she liked well enough. She found the topic interesting, as I thought she would, and the writing solid.

The second, a book I loved, she didn’t like at all. With an eye to making future suggestions she’d enjoy more, I asked her what she didn’t like about it, and she said she didn’t like the writing, that it got a bit better as she went along, but she just didn’t like it and didn’t really know why. She doesn’t mind reading outside her usual areas, she said, but likes good writing, first and foremost. (The implication, I suppose, was that this book wasn’t it.) Then she asked me what I thought of it.

This book had me hooked from the beginning, and I think it’s beautifully written. She was very surprised when I told her it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and that I like the writing style, the characters, all of it.

It was a very good reminder that reading is utterly subjective. One person’s favourite read is another’s wasted reading time. The variety of books available at any bookstore should be reminder enough of that, but it’s easy to forget, especially when you’re looking for someone to love your baby enough to publish it or if you get a poor review.

So next time your work gets slammed in a review or you get one of those “not right for me” rejections, remember that that one was my neighbour, but the next one may be me, hand-selling your book to everyone I can talk into buying it because I loved it so much.

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I don’t know about you, but iTunes has certainly changed the way I listen to music at home. In the car, I’m usually a radio girl, so things are much as they’ve always been during drive time, but at home, listening to my own collection, shuffle has become my default setting. It’s different: I never know what’s coming next and the variety makes things interesting. And besides, in many cases I have only one or two songs by an artist, the ones I downloaded because I particularly like them, something I used to dream of being able to do when there was only one song I wanted on a $16 CD and my choices were buy it or don’t.

But even with mostly positive change comes loss. Just as we’ve lost something of the joy of photography in not having to develop all the pictures on a roll of film to see the entirety of what we found worthy of our limited exposures, seeing the whole rather than the carefully-selected parts, I’d lost touch with the pleasure of listening to whole albums at once.

The other day, I drove to a friend’s house on a winding mountain highway. Along the way, my usual radio stations still came in, but with lots of static. Anyone who’s ever driven anywhere beyond the range of a radio station with me knows I Can’t Stand That. It bothers me beyond any reasonable reaction. It’s been ages since I drove alone into a static zone (ie with no one in the passenger seat to take charge of searching for good reception while I concentrated on the road), so I reached over and hit the CD button on the stereo. The only time I ever use the CD player in the car is on a road trip. I knew there were long-ago-inserted disks in the CD changer in my ten-year-old car, but had no idea what I’d be listening to.

What came on was an old Mary Chapin Carpenter album, Come On Come On. It’s the only CD of hers I ever owned. It was one of those random purchases years ago, because something about it appealed to me. Between the drive up to my friend’s house and back home again that day, I listened to it from start to finish, leaving it on even when I could easily have switched back to my default radio in the city.

I was struck by how much more I enjoyed the whole than the individual songs that pop up from time-to-time on my iTunes shuffle. I’d forgotten the work that artists put into choosing the order of songs, the mood, the overall feel of their albums. I’m glad Mary reminded me.

What are some of the albums you loved that you haven’t listened to from beginning to end in too long?

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Read anything good lately? I’ve been making a bit of a dent in my TBR pile. That’s not to say I haven’t added more to the pile as quickly as (*cough* more quickly than) I’ve taken some out, but still…

The past few months of reading have brought a mix from meh to marvellous. Nothing I didn’t care to finish, which is a nice bonus, and a couple of excellent ones with characters and stories that have stayed with me, clear in my memory, long after putting them down. That’s rare, and I appreciate it. Here are a few, chosen for being memorable enough that they came easily to mind when I was sitting on my patio thinking about what I’d read recently:

 

The Self-Preservation Society by Kate Harrison
This is the second of Kate’s books I’ve read. In the first, Brown Owl’s Guide to Life, she impressed me with her handling of multiple points of view and a flashback timeline, too. This one has a simpler structure, but is also well written. It’s a little bit silly and a I’ve no idea how well she handled the medical subject matter, not knowing anything about brain injuries, but as a summer read, it was fun and I appreciated that the main character resisted changing. Don’t we all?

 

 

 

 

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Regular readers of my blog may remember the kudos I gave Susanna for her The Winter Sea. I loved this one, too. Within a few pages she had me absolutely hooked, and had my writer wheels turning trying to figure out how she’d done it. Once you’ve read it – not before – you should check out the lovely video Susanna has on her blog, sent to her by an Australian woman who reads Mariana over and over and over again.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

I’d been eyeing this one for awhile, and finally bought it a couple of weeks ago. I had a feeling it would be something special, and it is. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Jojo Moyes does a beautiful job with both the parts set in the early 1960s and the present day.

 

 

 

 

Not unusual for my recent favourites to be British women’s fiction. (Yes, Susanna is Canadian, but her publisher, Allison and Busby, is in London.) I tend to love books that would fit handily in the soon-to-be-nonexistent “strong romantic elements” category of the RWA Rita awards, and many of the books I love best have been nominated for the British version, the Romantic Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists Association.

What’re your favourite recent reads?

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