Nearly a month gone by since my last post; how time flies. But it's been so lovely here with our annual Carolinas SCBWI conference (online), Michael's cousins and aunt visiting, and preparing for High Mass for the Feast of the Holy Rosary (this year is the 450th anniversary of the victory at the Battle of Lepanto). We sang Byrd for 3 Voices again (the link takes you to the Tallis Scholars because we have no recording, just these pictures). Afterwards we had another potluck. Fun to be with old friends and new. Lots of new people here, many fleeing from the Northeast and West Coast to get away from the restrictions that just keep on going in the name of Covid. The old adage of absolute power corrupts absolutely is now on full view in too many places. We must resist, especially when it's our children's future that's at stake. I feel an urgency to get my historical novel ready for submission...so yes, lots of writing and wrangling.
I'm also spending a lot of time reading and I want to highlight some of the really good books, some of them so new they're not yet out in the world, so my thanks go to the publishers for providing advanced review copies (ARC or DRC for digital review copies) via NetGalley or Edelweiss. It's very tempting to request more than what you can chew though...
HOOKED: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers on Page One and Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton is a re-read. It's about openings, what we need to achieve. I received a wonderful conference critique on my historical with advice that resonated and knew I had to rework my opening. I was in the middle of the revision but went back to play again with my opening. And in the process learning ever more about my characters. How I love them!
SECRETS OF STORY: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers by Matt Bird is brilliant. I love the way it's structured because it is in asking the right questions that we can write our way to a better answer. I remember downloading his ultimate checklist many years ago but this book delves deeply into all these questions. I love what he says at the end. To throw out all this advice and just write. Internalize the art of the novel. I'm trying, I'm trying! Keeping irony in mind. I hope I get there because I have so many stories I want to tell but if each one takes me 5-10 years to develop, there aren't enough years left for me. I'm nearly sixty!
ON IMMUNITY: an inoculation by Eula Biss is a collection of essays on its history coupled with her personal recollections after she gave birth to her son. The desire to protect is built into our psyche. She's honest about her anxieties and fears for her son and delves into many other areas regarding race, privilege, capitalism, private, public good, etc. related to vaccination. She ends with the metaphor, "Immunity is a shared space--a garden we tend together." True enough. No man is an island. She points out rightly that for a society to do what's best for the common good, you have to have trusts in its institutions. This book was written well before Covid and I wonder what she thinks now. You might be interested to note that the most vaccine hesitant are those with PhDs (especially those of us who've studied infection and immunology :)
CROOKED: Man-Made Disease Explained: The incredible story of metal, microbes, and medicine-hidden within our faces by Forrest Maready is one man's curiosity about crooked smiles and how it led him to investigate chronic health problems and tracing their history back to the 1800s. Fascinating book, well researched. He has several other books: THE MOTH IN THE IRON LUNG and UNVACCINATED that promise to be just as interesting.
ON ANIMALS by Susan Orlean is another collection of essays about our relationship with animals, whether they be pets or grown for food or work. I especially enjoyed reading about her farm and the many animals they kept. The personal pieces were the best. Most others were more "reporty"--about mules, people who kept tigers or show dogs, etc. compiled from previously published essays in magazines. DRC.
INTERIOR SILENCE: My Encounters with Calm, Joy, and Compassion at 10 Monasteries Around the World by Sarah Sands is an honest book of the author's own struggle with busyness and her journey into these places where silence reigns. I enjoyed her reflections, the history of the monasteries, and that realization that we'd all do better to cultivate more silence in our lives. ARC.
BLUE-SKINNED GODS by S.J. Sindu is such a tender story of a boy's awakening to the fact that he's not a god. His childhood is shaped by this lie. I loved the setting of the ashram in Tamil Nadu, the family relationships, his faith and innocence. My heart ached for the losses he endured. And even though the final part felt rushed (actually it matches the pace of his life in NYC) we trust that he will find his way in this world because he has sought and accepted truth. DRC.
WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo is a beautiful book about chasing the dreams God places upon our hearts. I especially appreciated that the young heroine keeps her baby girl while working toward her dream of being a chef. I loved the complex family relationships. And that cover! Gorgeous!!!
What are the good books you're reading right now? I leave you with my peaceful backyard, the evening sky reflected in the marsh while we prayed the rosary. The heavens declare the glory of God! May He bless and protect you.