Top Three Books – Week 1


This year I decided to start a reading journal and practice intentional reading–which involves taking note of character names and ages. I also record sentences that are powerful or elements that will shape my own writing.

This has helped give my blog renewed purpose–book reviews, thoughts on literature, and history. It’s also a journal as I explore genres such as mystery or thriller. Reading an average of ten books a month (I’m a fast reader) and not having reviewed them all, I’m going to have a weekly feature called Top Three Books.

Some posts will echo praise for titles I’ve written about; others will be special mention for novels I enjoyed but didn’t earn blog post glory. I’m excited to track my journey this way. I hope it will make me a better writer and thinker.

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

One of my greatest pet peeves is the claim that literature is somehow in danger.

It’s a complicated topic, but pinning the blame on eBooks or audiobooks simplifies the matter too much. We should not be afraid for the future of books, and Gottschall makes a fantastic argument as to why.

Story comes from the human mind. Humans were telling stories before there were ways to write them. Even if in another universe, paper books vanished–we will never be without story.

I love the smell of ink on paper, but isn’t story the most important aspect of a book?

The Seine by Elaine Sciolino

I love history. This explains my preference for classic novels–I often find more in an old book that was published as a serial than a hastily written novel penned to earn numbers on Amazon.

Elaine Sciolino went to extraordinary lengths to learn the history of the Seine river in Paris. The Seine is a diva, moody and vengeful. Sometimes she’ll save a life, but sometimes she’ll take it.

This quote from The Seine forever changed how I see Paris:

Without the Eiffel Tower, Paris would still exist; without the Seine, there would never have been a Paris.

If you want to learn French history without plunging into complicated details, Sciolino’s account is written in a language that’s easy to follow. It’s absolutely gripping.

You might not be able to travel this year, but let a book take you to Paris.

All The Good Girls by Willow Rose

I did not review All The Good Girls for the simple reason that it’s a quick read. I didn’t take many notes; it’s so fast-paced that I couldn’t have found the time to set it aside and jot down quotes.

It’s a murder mystery which in my humble opinion (I’m new to the mystery genre) was worth the time. As a writer, I thought some plot twists could have been handled better. The characters might have been written with more depth.

I liked All The Good Girls; I’ll read the rest of the series. There is a focus on God and prayer in this novel, so Christians would enjoy it. There are no “skippable” scenes, if you’re looking for a clean read.

I wonder if the focus on writing a clean book took away from what it could have been. All The Good Girls still deserves mention for its breakneck pace and the sheer fact that it was a page-turner.

Conclusion

Where I wrote blog posts reviewing a book, I linked to it in the title. Click on them and read for more thoughts.

This was a fun selection to make. Do you have comments on any of these books? I would love to hear your opinion!

Classics By Women: NOT JUST JANE by Shelley DeWees


What are the greatest powers to be found in books? There are many, but let’s think about the history behind each piece. People have been writing for centuries, some to inform and others to entertain. There’s a title about everything for everyone.

For more on this, check out my post about Jonathan Gottschall’s book The Storytelling Animal.

Once you start digging into classic literature, you will run into obscure authors and discover the roots of your favorite fairy tales. It’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

Ponder for a moment how the ability to write empowers. Reading and writing have a great influence in the direction that our world takes. Literature makes such a mark on society that it wasn’t always open to everyone.

Women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were discouraged from writing.  It went against the gender roles that society had preset for them. Women were only taught what was necessary for marriage and raising children. If they thought about writing a book (at least, one that wasn’t on the topic of good housekeeping), they risked becoming outcasts.

“Proper” men and women alike mocked ladies who wanted to write. If their tales were indeed written, they were never published. If they were published, most authoresses so feared the condemnation of society that they didn’t publish with their names. Instead they chose the appellation By a Lady.

There are too many women with such a history to celebrate in one blog post or even in a whole book. Shelley DeWees’ Not Just Jane introduces us to seven authoresses aside from Austen who broke the rules. Some were forced into writing to make a living because their husbands could not provide, or–in the case of Sara Coleridge–forced into marriage that tore her away from her passion.

While some of these women wrote about politics, especially during the Great Terror of the French Revolution, others just had stories to tell. Some of them survived because of questionable friends in upper ranks of society. Others were taken “under the wing” of important gentleman (one had a flirtation with the Prince of Wales).

Things like this kept them fed, but didn’t change how they were perceived by the ton. It was a point of no return.

The choice to become a female writer in the eighteenth century was one of strength and bravery. Could I have taken that path when there was so much at stake? I’m glad I don’t have to balance these things now in making that decision; times have changed.

I’m glad the world is full of room for women and their stories.

Learn about seven authoresses who shaped literary history. When you finish Not Just Jane, read a book by one of these women. What can we do to honor their memories? We read the stories they must have doubted could survive.

Paper or eBook? THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL by Jonathan Gottschall


Is the paper book becoming extinct?

This is a question that keeps surfacing, and it divides the community of readers in a manner that is not always pleasant. Debates rise that are unfriendly in nature. If you say that you prefer eBooks or audiobooks, someone feels the need to be judgmental.

We need to remember what a story really is. A story isn’t confined to paper, or an audiobook’s voice, or the screen of your Kindle. A story is something else difficult to describe, and we don’t do it justice by saying it belongs on paper alone.

Are we addicted to books, or to the stories recorded on pages? When the cliche Kindle-versus-paper-book debate surfaces, how many of us stop to think that it is not the paper which keeps us entertained, but the words on it?

The Storytelling Animal is a short book about our natural addiction to fiction, to the escape we have craved for centuries. Gottschall reminds us that, as our world changes, we find stories in different forms.

His insight was fascinating, and it made me question why so many of us participate in the Kindle-versus-paper debate at all. Some like to collect paper books (I’m certainly one of them) but if I can find the story I want on my Kindle for a smaller price, I won’t say no to that. 

It’s the story that eases the banality of day-to-day life. It isn’t paper that plays a story like television screens do, but my own imagination.

Ancient cultures told stories orally. Generations memorized them and passed them down. Now they may be found recorded in books, but were they not stories when they were spoken to attentive crowds? Consider epics like Beowulf; they were not written but spoken by bards. Are they disqualified from being called stories because they did not originate on paper?

One chapter spoke about dreams, how our brains are never through telling stories, even when we sleep. In dreams, the mind goes to a place where bizarre things are ordinary. Later we remember snatches of what we have dreamt, and only in this waking hour do any of these things seem odd, because in the dream it was quite natural.

I’ve always been of the opinion that what humans want is the story. We like to see the titles on our shelves grow; there is certainly satisfaction in watching the line of black Penguin classics increase. What we will carry with us when we aren’t reading are the scenes we visited, the words of poetry planted into our memories like wildflowers.

This doesn’t take the excellence from the paperback or leatherbound book–it only reminds us of what our memories can do. We don’t need to hold paper in our hands to revisit a place we loved. 

The stories that capture our imaginations will live in us after we finish reading. I sometimes wonder what plotline I’ll revisit in my final hours. Will my tired mind wander to a Jane Austen romance, or will it echo verses of poetry?

The eBook did strike a pet peeve when it ended at 60%, only to be followed by promotional features. I wanted more insight on the nature of story and how it affects us as humans. When 40% of a book is promotional, you feel cheated and rather mocked. This book is, therefore, very short.

I enjoyed reading it, but I hope that the paper edition is not like this!