I'm in the middle of Stephen King's On Writing, and just finished his account of the paperback rights to his first big novel (Carrie) selling for four hundred thousand dollars when he and his wife and two babies were living in poverty. I needed to put Camilla and Blaise to bed but I stood by the kitchen counter instead, reading, throat choked and eyes teary. Oh how I love a well-told story, no matter how short.
Last year I read one hundred forty books, which was at least three times as many as I read the year before or any year since my twins were born, although I used to go through three or four novels a week when I was pregnant with Camilla and not working or in school. It felt good to read at that rate. I had to make time-priority compromises, absolutely, but it was worth it to do something for myself, for my mental health and happiness, and to have it finally be possible.
One of the cool things about reading many books quickly was the chance to get reacquainted with my reading self. I'd lost track of what she can do and what she likes, what bores or irritates her, what grabs her.
In college, to give myself a break from organic chemistry equations or Latin translation, I used to devour P.G. Wodehouse stories, loved giving my brain a chance to untangle from the heaviness of academics with something perfectly light. Later on, when I was studying theology, I discovered so-called "chick lit" and found its fluffiness an excellent foil to the richness of St. Thomas and St. Augustine.
Ten years after graduation I'm intrigued to realize my tastes have changed. I have a new taste for stories I used to think I couldn't handle. I want a villain, a struggle between good and evil, or at the very least a conflict greater than "will he ask me out?" (Or, for that matter, "Will Jeeves come up with a genius plan to solve this hilarious dilemma?")
I still like lighter fiction (Bridget Jones will always be my homegirl) but I have to mix it up with other books, lots of them. And the way I read those feels different - I'm not protecting myself from the drama, but studying, immersing myself in it. It's not like I'm reading great literature, most of the time - a lot of what I read is not literature, just stories. But not as light. It's new. I kind of like it.
I tend to recommend authors rather than specific books, because when I discover a new book I like, I go and read everything else by the author. So, if you like book recommendations as much as I do, here are some authors I've enjoyed over the past couple years, including my favorites of their work, if applicable. It's probably kind of appalling that I have only recently discovered some of these people, but try to ignore that.
(I'm not doing links because I'm lazy, but these should be easy to Google.)
(Oh, also: I'm not sensitive about profanity etc in my fiction, so if you are, uh, just be aware of that.)
- Kate Racculia: mystery-ish, off-beat, dark but redemptive. I liked Bellweather Rhapsody better than This Must Be the Place, but it's definitely dark. One of my friends read it on my recommendation and said it was too scary for her. Oops!
- Joshilyn Jackson: strong female characters, sticky/bizarre life situations, southern-ness. Someone Else's Love Story was the standout for me, Backseat Saints my least favorite (but that might have been because it was too scary for me).
- John Green: YA... you have to have heard of him, yes? The Fault in Our Stars is beautifully written but I liked Paper Towns better. Looking for Alaska my least favorite by far.
- Rainbow Rowell: love stories about ordinary people, stunning writing. I devoured Eleanor & Park (which might be triggery for some people) in a day, but loved her other books too.
- Anne Tyler: again, you've probably heard of her, but somehow I hadn't read anything by her before last year. The beauty of her quiet prose soothes and inspires me. I never thought I could write fiction, but reading Tyler makes me wonder if I could.
- Liane Moriarty: probably qualifies as "chick-lit" but with mystery, humor, pathos, character development. I'd read some of her stuff ages ago, but it was so unmemorable that when What Alice Forgot captivated me, I didn't realize until later that I'd already discovered this author. And then I liked Big Little Lies even better.
I'm amused at myself for putting bestselling authors on this list, but if they're new to me, that counts, right?
Next up: a post about this brilliant author that I'm just a huge fan of. Maybe you've heard of her? Jane Austen?