Friday, April 1, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

If there's any upside to this broken limb, it's that I finally get to catch up on my reading.  It seems odd that a writer doesn't have time to read, but it's true.  I mean reading for my own pleasure.  Over the past couple of years I've read for two contests, and that meant I looked at some or all of a couple of hundred books (and tossed a few at the wall with some choice comments, the kindest of which was, "why is this piece of @#% in print at all?").

And all the while I was collecting books, to read "someday."  Books that other people recommended, books that sounded interesting, books I stumbled over on a shelf in a musty used bookstore somewhere.  Books that I need for research (I have not one but two very useful books on how to raise dairy cattle). Books I might need for research someday.  The end result was that my To Be Read piles (plural) had long since passed three feet high--each.  But now that I'm spending a lot of time sliding around on my bottom half has enabled me to reacquaint myself with all those hopeful, patient acquisitions.

Disaster was narrowly averted when The Break happened.  Of course I had carried enough reading material with me to see me through two very long plane trips, and I planned to acquire more in Ireland--one of my worst fears is to be caught somewhere with nothing to read.  (Sorry, I haven't yet obtained any form of ereader, which under the circumstances would have been very handy.)  Let me tell you, small, crowded bookstores and clumsy crutches don't mix well.  Which explains why I found myself reading Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, something I had successfully avoided since it came out (missed all the movies, too).  But there it was, abandoned by some former occupant of our rented cottage, and what's more, it was nice and fat.  I enjoyed it more than I expected, but then, I couldn't afford not to, since all the other books were a lot skinnier and wouldn't last as long. 

I scraped together enough reading matter to survive the trip, namely by sending my husband into the bookstores with specific instructions.  He came up with some good stuff, including a few Irish writers I requested.  And then we came back.

Now, having received strict instructions to keep all weight off the injured leg for six weeks (arrgghhh), I can't cook, wash dishes, clean house, do laundry, or even go up and down stairs easily--all of which suddenly opened up vast swathes of time to (gasp) read!  Whatever I wanted! Heaven!

Deciding what to read, when you have multiple choices, is always an interesting process.  Am I in the mood for something noirish and grim?  Or something light and fluffy?  Do I really want to read another mystery, or is there something else that appeals?  Funny or intense?  Long or short?

Actually I started with Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.  I've read everything else he's written, and this was getting soooo much media attention, so I bought it languished on the pile.  Suddenly had the time to read it, all whatever-hundred pages of it.  It's easy to describe it as "dysfunctional family" and leave it at that, but that somehow doesn't explain why each and every character is both peculiar and believable and you just can't stop reading.  I think I know at least two of the people.

Then Brunonia Barry's second book The Map of True Places.  I loved The Lace Reader, and I wanted to see if the second one lived up to it.  Pretty close.  Oh, look, another dysfunctional family.  Maybe there's a thread here and I didn't even notice:  I want to read about other people's problems, to distract me from my own?

I'd pre-ordered Sara Henry's new first book, Learning to Swim, and forgotten entirely until it showed up in my mailbox.  That was after the New York Times review appeared (unknown writer!  First book!).  Confession:  Sara and I bonded during a long and convoluted evening at Bouchercon in Baltimore a couple of years ago, and I've been looking forward to the book every since.  It does not disappoint.

I treated myself to The Rope That Strings the Hangman's Bag, since I enjoyed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  I think Flavia has become some sort of national reader litmus test:  you either love her or find her wildly improbable.  I love her, and identify with her.

I'm sitting on not one but two John Connolly books, but I want to be in the right mood to read them, because there are some dark corners in his mind.  I've also got two books by Susan Cheever, about Concord and Louisa May Alcott, that I've been hoarding for a special occasion.  Is this the time?

I could go on, but I'm sure you don't want to hear the entire roster of my stacks of books.  But since I've been looking for silver linings, the freedom to read as much as I want is a true luxury, and I'm going to take advantage of it.


Linda Leszczuk said...

You're succeeding in making me jealous of your accident. Oh, to have all that time to read...

Dru said...

I wish I had the time to read non-stop.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I don't understand, Sheila. Why aren't you at your computer, writing and schmoozing? You could do that standing on one leg. ;)

Sandra Parshall said...

The luxury of hour upon hour to read vanished when my first book was published. I wonder how many writers seldom read at all. Thank goodness for recorded books.

Sheila Connolly said...

Ah, Liz, I do try (yes, I've finished one short story, and four chapters of a book, and catalogued my Ireland pictures). As for the schmoozing, etc., with a computer or two that's easy--I feel like a spider in the middle of a large web, directing things without ever seeing who's on the other end. I think if this had happened in a pre-computer age I would have gone around the bend.

But we as writers do need to remind ourselves now and then about why we got into this. As all those t-shirts say, "so many books, so little time"!

Janet C said...

Having tried both, I can truthfully say that retirement beats breaking an ankle in the reading time sweepstakes. It's much easier to get up and get something to munch on when you're retired than when you're on crutches.

Julia Buckley said...

It's a good place to be--in the midst of and on the verge of some really good writing.

Steve Moore said...

Hi everyone!
I review for Norm Goldman's Book Pleasures, an activity which brings me many different books, although I pick and choose only ones that look personally interesting (I guess that's already a screening). I also make time to read other books, especially ones in Spanish. I always take either written or mental notes on things that I like that the author has done. I figure it has to help my own writing. At any rate, one has to make time for the reading--that activity started me writing creatively all the way back in grade school. It's probably the same for everyone else.