Recommended Reading List: April 2023
Wow, am I late on this. No, I have not dropped the Recommended Reading list, but it was the one thing that could go by the wayside during one of my busiest springs ever. So I have two months of reading list to get to. I hope to finish this by the end of June…before June’s list is due in July. Fingers crossed!
I’m amazed I had time to read anything in April. It was crazy. I had my own deadlines and some other things going on. School got insane as well, because all of the work for the semester was due between April 1 and May 10. We had to collaborate with other students and my partner was a last-minute guy. Straight A student. Very smart, but not willing to move on anything until it came up on his calendar. Which is not how I work at all. So there was a lot of rescheduling and shuffling of various other projects. I see the point of doing that when you’re 20. I don’t need to learn how to collaborate in my 60s. I have t-shirts older than my partner. (Okay, I’m not being entirely fair to him. He was a really great partner once he started working.)
Anyway, I did manage to sneak in some really good reading time.Writers, note that some of these books have publication dates that are years old. Books don’t date, no matter how traditional publishing has tried to convince us otherwise.
Here’s what I can recommend.
Falkenstein, Linda, “We Are What We Ate,” On Wisconsin, Winter 2022. I paid my way through the University of Wisconsin by freelance writing and working food service. I worked in the Union South Cafeteria, for those of you who remember that old clunky building. I spent a lot of time with UW food. One of my favorites was fudge-bottom pie. I wouldn’t be able to eat it now–too many allergies. I probably shouldn’t have eaten it then. But I did, I loved it, and I ate too much of it.
This article tells the history of fudge-bottom pie (yes, there is a history) as well as other favorites from Rocky Rococo’s pizza, which got me through one of the worst jobs I ever had (at a realty company not far from Rocky’s), and various Rathskeller cuisine. I have no idea if this article will mean anything to non UW grads, but for those of us that went there, the piece is filled with yummy memories.
Herron, Mick, Slow Horses, Soho Press, 2010. Those of you who are taking the floating viewpoint online workshop will recognize this book. We use it in the class. Heck, we could pretty much use anything Mick Herron writes.
I have loved Mick Herron’s short stories for years. I read one of his standalone novels during the pandemic, but the book was so very bleak and the ending so unpleasant that I shied away from reading any more of his longer works. Then I watched the first season of Slow Horses on Apple TV, and saw that the series was based on the Slough House books by Mick Herron. Okay, I thought, I’ll give his novels one more try.
Oh! Oh! Oh, am I glad I did. The books are bleak, yes, but funny and filled with characters that shouldn’t work and people that we shouldn’t like and we might not but boy, are they interesting. I devoured this book, when I wasn’t reading sections of it aloud to Dean, commenting on the techniques with great envy, which is something I always do with Herron. (Anyone who has taken a class with me that uses the book The Usual Santas knows of my love for his short story, “The Usual Santas,” in which he pulls off something I’ve never seen (and must try someday).) Expect to see more recommendations from this series from me. I can’t read them all at once because of the tone, but I will be alternating them with other novels.
Hibberd, James, “I Know Who The Fuck I Am,” The Hollywood Reporter, February 8, 2023. A wonderful deep dive interview with Harrison Ford, who has managed to have a 50+ year long career. He’s cantankerous and honest, which I appreciate, since both words could describe me. And there are great quotes here, like,
Well, you never do anything perfect. That’s a dangerous concept.
And things about the changing physicality of the aging body. It’s all interesting and worth reading.
Holmes, Dave, “I Feared The Marathon. I Ran It Anyway.” Runner’s World, Issue 6, 2022. No, I’m not going to run a marathon. I don’t fear it. I just have a low boredom threshold and the idea of training for one really makes me twitch.
That doesn’t mean that this essay by Dave Holmes is irrelevant. It’s not. It’s for anyone who does something they think they can’t do. I read the essay just after I did a mini triathlon and I found the piece inspiring enough to get me off my butt and try to find something new. I underlined a lot of this, like:
My vanity and pride had begun to deny me the simple thrill of slowly learning how to do something new. My soul craved the experience of completing a task in November that I could not possibly have completed in May. We need these things. They keep us growing.
Failure is a valuable opportunity for growth and self-knowledge, and it absolutely fucking sucks.
Yep. I needed those reminders. (I did fine on the tri, by the way. But whoa, boy, did I struggle.
The link above enables you to read the short essay for free.
Jenkins, Beverly, Deadly Sexy, Avon, 2007. I’ve been wanting to read a book of Beverly Jenkins’ for decades. I have a few on my shelf, in fact, all of them historical. But I never pulled them off of the shelf. Then I needed romantic suspense novels for reading list of the May Romantic Suspense workshop. I always pick a book or two that I hadn’t read, and when I saw that Jenkins had a romantic suspense series, I grabbed it. The cover copy also listed some of my reader cookies—sports fiction, celebrity, and romance—so of all of her romantic suspense books, I picked the stupidly titled Deadly Sexy. (That’s no knock on Jenkins. Traditional publishing went through a two-decade period of saying that only one or two words should be on a title. Seriously.)
I read the book quickly and loved enough of it that I’ll be picking up the other books on my shelf as well as more in this series. I did not like the villains because they seemed cardboard to me. But, full disclosure, one of the writers in our workshop (in May) said that they liked the villains and didn’t like the protagonists, so it’s a matter of taste.
Jenkins also did some fun craft things that I’d never even thought of. She changes points of view in a sentence, just like Nora Roberts does, but unlike Roberts, Jenkins might also change location. So the sentence might go like this. “Back in Los Angeles, the villains were also thinking about the couple.” Smooth, sweet, and suddenly, we’ve moved from Michigan to California in a phrase. That caught me only because Dean and I had been designing the floating viewpoint online workshop. I’d been reading along and suddenly found myself transported from Michigan to California, and wondered where it happened. So I stopped reading for enjoyment and backtracked. (Which is not something I usually recommend doing.) Only one other author has ever made me backtrack like that, and that’s Stephen King. Because sometimes he gets me to feel something and I want to know how he achieved it.
Anyway, that was the cool writer thing in this book. The cool reader thing is that she mentioned her characters in this contemporary novel came from a strong family, and she cites some of the history…that I knew existed because I had those books on my shelf. Very smooth. Very neat. A little Easter Egg for the historical readers and maybe a roadmap for people like me.
Penn, J.F., Pilgrimage, Curl Up Press, 2022. I got this book as part of Joanna Penn’s Kickstarter. I always get paper, because that’s how I prefer to read. I also keep track of paper books better than anything I get online.
A book about pilgrimages is really not my cup of tea. Much as I like walking, I’m not religious nor am I that interested in following old historical trails. If I were lucky enough to return to England, for example, I would go for the theater. (Again.)
But the book itself intrigued me, partly because Joanna had done this during the worst of the pandemic. Her writing is lyrical and her experiences amazing. The book is hopeful and warm, and it was the perfect antidote to something awful that I had just read (which had broken my heart). This slim book is good for everyone, not just folks who want to wander with purpose.