For the Love of Reading

By Sherry — Home from a chilly Northern Florida to a freezing Northern Virginia

I have a lot of things to thank my mom for, but probably none more than my love of books. We had lots of books in our house. We made weekly trips to the library from the time I was really little. Then the bookmobile started coming to a park an easy walk from our house once a week.

Mom would read a chapter of a Bobbsey Twin book to my sister and I every night. But she had a devious plan which was to get us to read on our own. I was a bit more of a reluctant reader than my sister. The plan worked because who could stand to wait until the next night to find out what was going to happen next.

There was a large collection of Bobbsey Twin and Nancy Drew books in our house. When there was a book fair at school we were each allowed to pick a few books. Oh, the joy! My second grade teacher wasn’t the best so I fell behind with my reading compared to my peers. Thankfully, I had a third grade teacher who noticed. She took to giving me extra books to take home to read out loud to my mom. And my mom always made time for me to do that. Soon I was back on track and have been a voracious reader ever since.

My dad loved to read too and as we grew up we were always trading around mysteries and thrillers. I remember us all reading the Deadly Sins series by Lawrence Sanders. And books by Sidney Sheldon. There’s an image in one of them I still can’t get out of my head.

My mom is a big fan of cozy mysteries and an avid reader of our blog. She’s introduced me to as many authors and series as I have to her. Years ago it was Lillian Jackson Braun and Dorothy Gilman, more recently Joann Fluke and Diane Mott Davidson. I’ve, of course, introduced the books by all the Wickeds and so many other friends. (A signed book makes a great gift!)

It’s something we will always share.

Readers: Who instilled a love of reading in you?

 

So Many Books…Part II

CONGRATULATIONS TO PAULA EMMONS! You are the winner of Linda Reilly’s book giveaway! Please contact: jessie at jessiecrockett.com with your mailing address!

By Liz, still trying to organize these darn books before I bring the next truckload here!

So last week I told you all about my angst sorting through my books. Now that they’re mostly sorted (I still have one bookcase at the old place that’s only about half done), it’s time to figure out how to set them up in their new homes (the bookcases I haven’t bought yet).

This part is kind of exciting, actually. I mean, I get to organize my books. What writer/book lover gets to say that? Usually we have so many they become towering piles of possible injury if a breeze blows past in the wrong direction. But all the sorting and donating has left me with just enough that I can now…organize. Theoretically.

I know, stop laughing. I swear I can do this. I’ve actually given it a lot of thought. I mean, do I set up a true To Be Read bookcase, and organize those books alphabetically? Nah, that wouldn’t work because the books are different sizes. Maybe by order in which I want to read them? Probably not, because that changes daily depending on my mood. Plus, if I did a TBR bookcase and then had to move the books to the other shelf when done, I’d have one bookcase that would be overflowing and probably collapse, while the other languished with extra space.

Oh, who am I kidding – I’d just go buy more books.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to do it by category, combining both read and TBR. First, I’ll have my self-help stash, with everything from Brene Brown to Louise Hay to the Crystal Healing Guide. That way, when I’m cranky or depressed or simply just losing my mind, I can go right to the place and figure out who best to help me. Wayne Dyer will always be at my fingertips, because he’ll be on the easy-to-reach shelf.  IMG_2282

Then I’ll have my cozy mystery selection, which is self-explanatory. I reach for these when I want to start a book and feel like I’m visiting old friends, or going to a new small town to make new ones. Then there’ll be my dark and creepy offerings – my Tana French and Dennis Lehane and Stephen King and all the other gut wrenching, frightening, psychological books that keep me up at night. I love this pile!

Then there’s the writer/research pile. All my books on how to write in all their post-it-noted glory. All my research books on the FBI and police and the mafia. My copy of The Artist’s Way. Basically, my working pile.

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Then finally, there’ll be the miscellaneous pile. The copy of A Tale of Two Cities I’ve had since high school that I can’t part with. Lauren Graham’s new book, Talking As Fast As I Can, which is awesomely hilarious. My Joyce Carol Oates books. You get the idea.

I have no idea if this will work – I end up buying books and stashing them somewhere just to put them away with a promise that I’ll reorganize later – but I’m going to give it my best shot. Of course, I need to buy those bookcases first.

Readers, do you organize your books in any special way? Do I sound OCD? Chime in!

Wicked Wednesday: Stress Busters

By Julie, overwhelmed in Somerville.

Friends, this time of year can be a big ball of stress for folks. Wickeds, what is your favorite way to bust stress? Naps, meditation, herbal tea, boxing–what is your img_0507secret? If you don’t have one, what would you like to try?

Jessie: I knit. I pull out a pair of needles, a ball of yarn and a pattern that is engaging
enough to hold my attention but easy enough not to lead to frustration. Within very few minutes I feel centered and much more like my best self.

Edith: Boxing! What a thought. I took a kick-boxing class a few (okay, eight) years ago and LOVED it. I remembered my karate roundhouse kicks, the horse stance, the best way to punch. I barely kept up, energy- and heart-rate wise with all the younger members of the class, but I was deeply into it … until I blew out my hamstring. I hobbled home and never went back, but you can’t beat complete exhaustion for stress-busting. Now my img_0612fresh-air power walk has to suffice as a stress-buster, or with enough snow, a good hour of cross-country skiing.

Sherry: Read! Books have been my escape for years — my drug of choice because they take me away from my problems and transport me to another world. And also walking. Because we don’t have a fenced yard I walk my dog Lily several times a day. Even when the weather is terrible it’s usually good to be outside if only for a few minutes.

Liz: I love kickboxing too, Edith! I’ve been doing a program called Combat on and off the past few years – it’s a mixed martial arts workout and it’s pretty awesome. That said, lately I’ve been more of a yoga person. Having been practicing fairly regularly since the summer, I am finding it truly is the best thing for mind, body and soul. Throw in some meditation and I might be on my way to zen in no time.

Barb: When it comes to holiday stress, I LEAN IN. If I’m not in a holiday mood, the best remedy for me is to “do all the things,”–put up the tree, decorate the house, bake the cookies, open the little doors on the Advent calendar, send out the cards, wrap the presents, have a lovely lunch in a festively decorated restaurant with good friends. By the time the big day rolls around, I am de-stressed and feeling very Christmas-y. Tradition and ritual are what do it for me. As my children have reminded me, both in words and in expectations, the years when you don’t feel like it are the most important times to do it.

Julie: Friends, as always you inspire. I am determined to get better about doing yoga. I recently knit a Christmas project for a friend, and found it really relaxing. I suspect my friends and family are going to benefit from clicking needles in the coming weeks.

Readers: What’s your favorite stress-buster?

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Welcome Reviewer Extraordinaire, John Valeri!

Hey friends, Liz here. Today I have the pleasure of introducing one of my favorite pals – and hardcore book reviewer – John Valeri. John and I met the first time I attended the Seascape Writer’s Retreat (jeez, was that in 2007? How can that be??) and I was immediately captivated by his love for books, his contagious laugh and his obsession with everything Scream. Today, John has made quite a name for himself in the world of book reviews – a name that no doubt will continue to grow in popularity as he moves into a proverbial new chapter. He’s here today to tell us all about that chapter. 

Take it away, John!

John ValeriOn June 25th, my Hartford Books Examiner (HBE) Facebook page reached its 1,000th like.

On the 28th, I was at R.J. Julia—Connecticut’s illustrious indie bookstore—when a patron shared with me that her attendance at three recent events was a direct result of learning about them through my column (the ultimate validation for those of us who wonder if anybody’s actually reading our stuff).

Three days later, scrolling through Facebook, I learned that the forces behind Examiner.com had pulled the proverbial plug—and that my seven-and-a-half year reign as HBE had come to an unceremonious end. (How cliché that I’d learn of this through social media, right?)

A brief moment of panic.

Not because I’d have to find some new job to replace the $12 of income they paid me every month (that’s an approximation, and probably a generous one) but because I feared losing my place in the community that I so adore. So much of my identity had been wrapped up in a title. What would I do with that being taken away?

I had been granted intimate access to hundreds of authors, invited to moderate panels and one-on-one discussions at prestigious events, received complimentary books by the dozen, and found pull quotes of mine featured on, and in, books by the likes of James Patterson, Wally Lamb, Shania Twain, Mary Higgins Clark, and Debbie Macomber. Even Marcia Clark—yes, that Marcia Clark—who had been a hero of mine since the age of twelve.

It seemed I had a lot to lose.

But then? My paranoia was replaced by an overwhelming sense of … freedom.

While I am deeply appreciative of Examiner.com for providing me a forum, I had increasing frustrations about their poor compensation and maddeningly inconsistent editorial feedback. Still, I had hesitated to part ways because so many people knew me as an extension of that platform.

And then I realized something: Everything that HBE had become was my doing. I was the one who committed myself to writing multiple articles per week at the cost of sanity and sleep. I was the one who tirelessly recruited guest authors to appear virtually before they knew what Examiner.com was (but would later be so inundated with requests that I couldn’t keep up). I was the one who wrote the content that had been pulled for use in books and web sites and any number of other literary things.

Sadly, I also found that my voice, my very personality—which had been absolutely integral in branding HBE—was being silenced by nameless, faceless cyber superiors who thought they knew my readers better than I did. I firmly believe that professional and personable can coexist.

When I announced my liberation on Facebook, I was met with an overwhelming outpouring of support and encouragement from authors, bloggers, booksellers, readers, and other friends who I’d connected with since 2009. It soon became evident that my place among them was never in jeopardy. And if there was a common sentiment, it was this: Start your own site.

So I did.

Actually, my wife did. Chelsey—who is far better at all things requiring a modicum of tech savvy—immediately set about building my own personal web page. (She probably suspected that my initial elation at finding myself untethered would soon turn to abject terror.) On July 4th, I declared my creative independence with the unveiling of www.johnbvaleri.com, a virtual home where I can continue pushing my bookish agenda with reckless abandon.

While this new endeavor has only just begun, I’m excited knowing that the next chapter is mine alone to write.

John, so excited that you’ll be starting your own site. Best of luck to you – and we’re all here to support you! Readers, leave John a comment and wish him well!

The Detective’s Daughter – The Summer Reading List

 

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Kim in Baltimore surviving the heat.

What do Jaws, The Eye of the Needle, Where Are the Children, and Valley of the Dolls have in common? They are a few of the books I remember my mom reading when I was a child. Every day, whether she was sitting on the front steps or in the car waiting for Dad to come out of work, Mom was always reading a book.

Last summer, as I was moseying about in the East Village, I picked up a well-worn copy of Rosemary’s Baby in The Strand. By the next day I’d read it cover to cover. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I remembered Mom reading the book years ago.image
Each week we took a trip to the Enoch Pratt library where Mom would walk out with an armful of novels she’d have read long before our next visit. By the time I was fourteen we were both reading Mary Higgens Clark, Phyllis Whitney and Barbara Michaels.

Throughout the years I’ve read Gone With the Wind more times than I can count. I have Mom’s battered copy locked on the shelves of my desk. I take it out just to hold sometimes, remembering Mom sitting in her folding chair, with her cigarettes and iced tea at her side, flipping the pages of the latest book she’d borrowed.

Dad was not much of a reader other than the morning and Sunday editions of The Baltimore Sun. However, one week Mom checked out The Godfather from the library and before she had her iced tea poured and her cigarette lit, Dad was absorbed in the novel. It’s the only book Mom and I ever recall seeing Dad read.

I’ve thought often about the books Mom has read and decided this summer to make them my reading list. I could cross off Rosemary’s Baby and Gone With the Wind; they are books I will read time and again. It wasn’t hard to come up with titles, but I needed to keep it compact. There’s only so many weeks in summer! Here’s what I came up with:image

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Jaws by Peter Benchley
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
Window on the Square by Phyllis A. Whitney
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

I’ve finished reading Valley of the Dolls and am well into the Phyllis Whitney book. I unfortunately began watching Mad Men the same time I was reading Dolls. It was depressing reading and seeing how little freedom and respect women were given. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch another episode of Mad Men!

As I’ve compiled these books and read through them I’ve thought about what these titles say about my mom. Why do we select the titles that we do? Why are some inclined to read only mystery while others enjoy the classics? Is the genre you prefer inherited or learned?
I spoke to Mom this morning and asked her why she chose certain books. “They seemed interesting,” she said. She wasn’t particularly aware if they were best sellers or if a movie deal was in the works, she just enjoyed reading. I think that’s the part I inherited.
Hope you’re enjoying your summer reading.

Readers: Please share with us the titles of books you have read more than once and why.

A Lifelong Love of Libraries

By Liz, grumbling about the sneaky spring snowstorm and hoping the temps rise fast!

Last week, I did an event for the Murder & Mayhem mystery group at the South Windsor Public Library here in Connecticut. I’d never been to this library before and was delighted to go. It gave me a chance to not only meet new readers and mystery lovers, but to check out a new library.

As a lifelong reader and writer, libraries have always been a sacred place for me. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who read to me from day one, and those were always my favorite childhood memories. She began taking me to the library as a toddler, and it became our weekly date. When I was a bit older, my father ran a small driving school nights and weekends in North Andover, Massachusetts, and on Saturdays we’d go visit him. But before we did that, we’d go to the library.

An adorable “free library” I found while visiting Woodstock, New York last year.

The children’s area in the Stevens Memorial Library was in its own room on the first floor. I could wander the shelves for hours, just browsing, checking out new titles, authors, and covers that peaked my interest. When I got older, my mother would leave me down there while she went up and looked at her own books. I found my favorite young adult book there – Daphne’s Book, a story about a young girl who grudgingly partners up with a classmate to do a project and learns about her tragic family life. (I was so delighted to see this book is still in print, and even reissued with a new cover!)

I used to check that book out once every couple months and re-read it. If I had time, I’d curl up on the floor and read some chapters from a favorite Judy Blume or Nancy Drew story. And always, I’d go home with a pile of books.

After my father closed his driving school, we spent more time at our hometown library, the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen. It was here that I experienced many firsts: first significant research paper, first school project with friends and even first major grounding episode. Yes, during one memorable adventure researching skin for a science fair, I got home late and was grounded. (Yes, from the library. Yes, my parents had no idea what other kids were getting up to.)

Heading to an author event with some of the Wickeds last summer in West Newbury, Mass.

Heading to an author event with some of the Wickeds last summer in West Newbury, Mass.

As an author, it was an amazing experience to be invited to Nevins on two occasions to promote my books. It felt like visiting an old, familiar friend. And really, any library I’m lucky enough to visit is perfect. As soon as I walk inside, it feels like home.

Readers, what’s your favorite library story?

Wicked Wednesday- Books I Haven’t Read

Jessie: Feeling gleeful at the way the snowbanks at the end of the driveway have melted down from over six feet to under five!

As the winter begins to fade the outdoors starts to call. Soon there will be other things to do with free time besides staying tucked up next to the fire reading. So in these last few weeks of prime reading weather I wanted to ask which books have you never read that everyone else seems to have enjoyed? A classic? A bestseller? Even an entire genre?

100yearsLiz: This is a shame that goes back to grad school, but I could never get through One Hundred Years of Solitude. I tried, multiple times, especially because it was required reading for one of my classes, but I couldn’t do it. I know Marquez is a genius, and maybe someday I’ll try Love in the Time of Cholera, but it’s really not high on my list.

Jessie: Moby Dick is mine. I almost feel left out when people complain about it but not enough to buckle down and give it a go. Although, with Barb giving it such an enthusiastic endorsement here recently I might just have to check out a copy at the library.

Barb: For me it’s the Russians. Though I enjoyed Anna Karenina, and remember it vividly even though I read it close to forty years ago, I have never read War and Peace, or Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov or, or, or… And yes, I’m embarrassed about it.

Edith: So funny, Liz. I loved everything I read by Marquez! I, onNathaniel_Hawthorne_by_Brady,_1860-65 the other hand, have never read anything by Hawthorne. Very little by Charles Dickens all the way through, although I enjoyed reading A Tale of Two Cities when my son read it in high school. I tried to “read” Gone Girl on audio last summer and couldn’t stand the narrator — and not the audio narrator, the one in the book. Also a pass on the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and following. And ya know what? Not a bit embarrassed by any of it. Life is short, and I’m going to read what I want to.

Sherry: I’ve never even tried to read Moby Dick but I had a bit of the same reaction that Jessie did when hearing Barb talk about it. However, it’s very war-and-peacefar down the reading list. War and Peace is another. I tried. When I was in 8th or 9th grade I went to a movie version. It was so long they showed the first half one week and the second half the next. I loved it but think I’ll be content with that.

Julie: Well, aside from Dickens, I’m with you my Wickeds. Especially about the Russians. I do try again every few years, hoping that I will find my groove at my current life stage, but so far, no dice. I’m also going to add Faulkner, though that has more to do with my high school AP English class where we had to diagram sentences, and she made us diagram Faulkner. Did you know he wrote sentences that went on for pages?

Readers, which books have you passed up intentionally or unintentionally?