7 Books I Want to Read Again

Whenever I finish one book, I often find myself with the delicious dilemma of choosing which one will be the next taken off my shelves. But my to-read list has grown longer than my to-do list. (Darn you, Goodreads!)

So, why would I reread books? Sometimes I want to slow the insatiable desire for new, better, more and hang out with the familiar. Like sitting with an old friend and reminiscing for a while.

Also, books change as we change. As we gain more life experiences and have more years on this planet, our perspective changes. I admit—I didn’t like Pride and Prejudice when I read it in high school. Now, it’s one of my favorites. (Though, I think I’d have to live a long, long time to change my original opinion of Moby Dick. *cough*)

There are some books I reread and realize that I missed the point the first time around. Maybe I was distracted by life’s little intrusions. Maybe I was skimming. (Note to self: Don’t skim! Why bother!?)

Here are seven books on my TBRR* list:

*To Be ReRead

All Creatures Great and SmallAll Creatures Great and Small, by James HerriotMy copy is yellowed and the cover is torn (see photo), but I’m not getting rid of it. As a country veterinarian in 1930s Yorkshire, Herriot’s patients ranged from dogs and cats to pigs and cows. He wove his animal tales (pun intended), while painting a beautiful portrait of the windswept moors and the hardy, hardworking farmers. I remember his stories as warm, but not sappy; insightful, but not preachy.

 

58345The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. When I read this novel in college, I’d learned that the story shocked readers when it was published in 1899. I thought Kate Chopin was prescient, imagining what female marital infidelity would look like. But now I wonder: Was the book ahead of its time or was it shockingly contemporary? Just because it wasn’t discussed openly doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. A good book to reread in this Snapchat, swipe left, share everything age we live in.

 

386187Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt.  There is practically a law that says you must read this book before you visit Savannah, Georgia. And so I did. And it was terrific. And to a large extent that is my memory of the plot. So when a friend read it and recounted the escapades of the Lady Chablis, the eccentric drag queen, I realized it’s time to be enamored all over again.

 

 

The Alchemist, by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho. I can’t remember what happened to my copy. Maybe I loaned it to a friend or donated it in one of my intense yearly bookshelf purges. Two weeks ago, I was browsing at a stoop sale (the urban version of a yard sale) and my eyes landed on this book. I was about to walk away (do I really need another book!?!) when the seller handed it to me and said, “No charge.” It feels like the universe wants me to read this one again.

 

 

A Walk in the WoodsA Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. This was my introduction to Bill Bryson’s writing, and now I’m a Bryson completist. His curmudgeonly, wry tone always leaves me in good spirits. It’s been at least 15 years since I last read this one, and I still have the book on my shelf.

 

 

 

to kill a mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Because I refused to read Go Set a Watchman.

 

 

 

 

The Getaway Car, by Ann PatchettThe Getaway Car, by Ann Patchett. This slim volume of writing encouragement is only available as a Kindle Single, but it’s worth downloading the app, if you don’t already have it. (And it’s a reasonably priced $2.51 at last check). Lately I’ve needed a writerly pick-me-up. The long, sometimes soul-crunching process can make me question moving forward with a story.  To that, Ann Patchett says:

 

“Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”

 

Do you reread books? Which ones? 

Coming next time: an interview with Bethany Ball, author of What to Do About the Solomons! 

BEFORE YOU GO

  1. This fall, I’ll be teaching my most popular class at The Loft Literary Center called Back to Basics: Creative Writing Techniques, starting September 20. The Loft Literary Center

I’ll let you know when registration opens.

2. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be moving over to WordPress.org in the next month or two. The move requires all of you to resubscribe over at the new URL. So frustrating, but I don’t know a way to transfer subscriptions. (If you do, please let me know!)  I want to keep you informed about the move and the new writing courses I’m developing. I’ve started a newsletter. I’d love it if you’d sign up. As a thank-you, I’m offering my short editing checklistThis is one of the checklists I use when editing fiction writing. Thanks so much for your support! 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

Author Interview: Jill Santopolo, The Light We Lost

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo is one of the novels I was most looking forward to reading this year. It did not disappoint! Weeks after finishing, I am still thinking about the main characters, Gabe and Lucy, and the larger implications of “following your passion.”


The Light We Lost, by Jill SantopoloMe Before You
meets One Day in this devastatingly romantic debut novel about the enduring power of first love with a shocking, unforgettable ending. A Love Story for a new generation.

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

I reached out to Jill and she so kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her novel and the writing life. What a thrill to have her here today!


JC: What was your starting point for The Light We Lost? Did you come to this story with the main character, Lucy, in mind? Was it one particular scene? How did you build from there?

JS: The starting point for The Light We Lost was actually an emotional one. I’d just gone through a terrible break-up—the sort that turns your entire life and your entire future upside down—and I was trying to figure out a way to handle all of those emotions. The way I ended up doing it was writing vignettes about another woman who was going through a different break-up than I was. Lucy’s story is not my story, but the emotions she experiences—the anger, the sorrow, the hurt, the betrayal, the love, the hope, the regret—all of those were feelings I was experiencing and that’s where this book started.

JC: Certainly one important theme of the book is light—from carrying a torch to illuminating secrets. For me, another important theme emerged—the choice between trailblazing one’s passion and following a more traditional path. Lucy and Gabe determine that it’s difficult to have two trailblazers in one relationship. They would sort of cancel each other out. Can you speak to this a bit? Was this your initial intention or did it develop while you were writing?

JS: I didn’t initially write the book with that point in mind, but I did know that I wanted Lucy’s career to be important to her, and I wanted her, in the end, not to compromise it for any of the men she was with. I think, especially living in New York City with so many ambitious, driven people, it’s easy to end up in a situation in which one person would have to compromise their career for the success of their partner’s, and I wanted to explore that—and what it means for women, particularly, to make these kinds of choices.

JC: I found Lucy’s emotions to be so rich—layered and complex. Sometimes she was managing conflicting emotions and trying to reconcile the gap between the two. This was made even more poignant because the story spans about fifteen years as we move from Lucy’s college days through marriage, parenthood, and career. Do you have any suggestions for writers about how to create a protagonist with this kind of far-reaching emotional depth? 

JS: Thank you for that! I’m so glad you felt connected to Lucy emotionally. I think the best way to write characters that feel emotionally deep and multi-layered is to create character who, themselves, seem three-dimensional and multi-layered on the page. I always say that when I know a character I’m writing well, I can predict what that character would do in any given situation—I know what makes that character tick, what motivates them, scares them, frustrates them, and what they need to be happy. Once you can do that, I think the emotions just fall into place.

JC: Expanding a bit on the question above, I loved how you were able to create well-rounded characters of the two important men in Lucy’s life—Gabe and Darren. Neither man is all or nothing. Both are supportive but also limiting for her in different ways. So many writers find it challenging to develop supporting characters with such nuance. Can you share how you developed these characters so they didn’t feel like cardboard cut-outs?

JS: I think in the same way that I got to know Lucy, I got to know both men, figuring out what was important to them and what motivated their decisions and actions. Once I did that, the characters started to feel real. And their relationships with Lucy started to feel real, too. I knew from the start that I didn’t want either of them to be perfect, and I wanted to leave room for readers to think about the complexities of love and relationships, not just in The Light We Lost, but in their own lives, too. In creating Darren and Gabe, I wanted to make sure that they each fulfilled a certain need that Lucy had, but that neither of them fulfilled all of her needs and desires.

JC: I’m always interested in learning how other writers protect their time. How do you carve out time to write with all of your other commitments?

JS: This is always the struggle, isn’t it. I’ve found two tricks that help me get writing done: One is literally scheduling writing time in my calendar like any other plan, and then not “canceling” it when something else comes along, and the other is giving myself word count targets each day or each week that I make myself hit, even if it means waking up early or staying up late or writing on the subway as I’m traveling somewhere else. I basically make myself accountable to myself and don’t want to let myself down.

The Light We Lost is available through Amazon, B&NIndieBound or your favorite bookstore near you!


Jill SantopoloJill Santopolo received a BA in English literature from Columbia University and an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s the author of The Light We Lost, an epic love story that will be published in 29 languages in more than a hundred countries across the globe, as well as three children’s and young-adult series–The Sparkle Spa, The Alec Flint Mysteries, and the Follow Your Heart books–and works as the editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City. You can visit her online at www.jillsantopolo.com or follow her on Twitter @jillsantopolo. 


BEFORE YOU GO

  1. If you’ve ever wanted to take an online writing course but weren’t sure which cThe Loft Literary Centerourse was right for you, check out the Summer Sampler at The Loft Literary Center.

Over four weeks, you will get a taste of several online classes, hosted by different teachers (including yours truly!) in different genres. I’ll be teaching a three-day session on descriptive writing. The cost is only $80 (a steal, really), and the program starts June 5. Registration is open now. 

2. Some big changes are going to be happening around these parts, including a new look and more online writing courses. What is scariest for me is moving to a new URL. I’ll be packing up my WordPress.COM bags and heading over to WordPress.ORG. I’ve been here for over seven years! But it’s time to take the plunge. I want to keep you informed when the time comes, so I’ve started a newsletter. I’ll be sharing writing tips, discounts on future class offerings and updates on how the new site is going. I’d love it if you’d sign up. As a thank-you, I’m offering my short editing checklistThis is one of the checklists I use when editing fiction writing. Thanks so much for your support! 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday Five

It’s been too long since I’ve shared a Friday Five! Here are some things that caught my interest recently.

1.Someday, a two-minute video from The Minimalists.

 

2. Georgia O’Keeffe.  The Brooklyn Museum has put together a wonderful exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and work. It is excellently curated, focusing on the connection between creativity, her strong sense of self, and place. Her first exhibition took place at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927, so it feels appropriate that her work return here all these years later.

This photo of her was taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, in 1920. She was about 33. The placard states that Stieglitz preferred photographing her from a low vantage point “highlighting her audacity in dressing so that her gender was obscured or, one might say, appeared simultaneously male and female.”

The exhibit is open through July. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend it.

FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender (1)

 

3. My new BFF. Don’t ask me how I lucked out, but I attended a cooking demonstration hosted by Deb Perelman. Within minutes, Deb had me and forty other slightly crazed Smitten Kitchen fans laughing and clapping, feeling like we were old friends.

She seemed exactly like she does on her blog—charming and self-effacing and funny. When I got to speak to her one-on-one, I went all fan girl and told her that I made her pecan pie for Thanksgiving and the crust was delicious, all light and flaky, and browned perfectly, but I had a problem with the filling being too runny and what would she suggest to fix that, maybe a higher oven temperature or cutting back on the golden syrup and as long as I was on the subject, should I toast the pecans? It was that embarrassing. I took my sample slice of sour cream crumb cake and slinked off into the crowd.

IMG_2790

4. Move over cronut, there’s a new sweet in town. Cookie Do sells just what you think—scoops of unbaked cookie dough. After being told by two bouncers at the door wearing headsets (no joke) that the line started waaay back around the corner, I wasn’t sure I was going to wait. The website says that when they’ve sold out, they close up shop for the day. I chanced it, and just as I was about to give up hope, I made it in. I got two scoops—peanut butter snickerdoodle and chocolate dream. Why spend an hour in line for something you can buy in tubes at the grocery store? Well…okay, I don’t really have a good answer for that, except to say that it was heavenly… little gobs of butter and crunchy bits of sugar with chocolate and peanut buttery deliciousness.

cookie do

5.Zen Pencils. I’ve enjoyed Gav’s comics over at Zen Pencils for a few years now. He is an illustrator who creates “cartoon quotes from inspirational folks.” In honor of Dr. Jane Goodall’s 82nd birthday on April 3 and Earth Day on April 22, I’m sharing one of my favorite Zen Pencils comics “The Power of One.” Below is a partial clip, and this link will take you to the complete comic in its entirety. While you’re there, also check out Gav’s latest comic dedicated to Frida Kahlo. I never realized just how much physical pain she endured for most of her life.

189_goodall_01

 

Coming soon: an interview with author Jill Santopolo. Stay tuned! 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Seven Books I Can’t Wait to Read

The stacks of books on my nightstand grow ever taller, but here are a few books I just can’t wait to read.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng.  Well, thank goodness for this. Celeste Ng’s new book will be out in September. It’s so far away, the cover image isn’t even ready yet, but what a gem to look forward to this fall. The book explores “the weight of long-held secrets, the nature of belonging, the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.”

 

9780316154727_p0_v3_s192x300Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris. I’m a David Sedaris completist. Even if this turns out to be a list of food he ate, I will read it. And it will be hilarious. This collection will be out in May. Mark your calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

30107561Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson. In his new novel, Wilson introduces us to Isabelle Poole, a pregnant teen who agrees to raise her child in an experimental collective called The Infinite Family. I enjoyed Wilson’s quirky style and compassionate voice in his debut novel, The Family Fang.

 

 

 

 

30268062Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. It’s his debut novel, but George Saunders’s achievements in nonfiction are many. The story is about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the beginning of the Civil War. And, as if this doesn’t sound interesting enough, there are ghosts!

 

 

31941884The Light We Lost, by Jill Santopolo. The Light We Lost is described as One Day meets Me Before You with an unforgettable ending. I’m fortunate to have an advance reader’s copy of this novel, set to release in May.

 

 

 

 

32616120Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay. I can’t think of an American writer whose work is more relevant and more poignant right now. Difficult Women is a collection of short stories all centered around—you guessed it— “difficult” women.

 

 

 

 

29974618The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. A number of you have had great things to say about this novel: the lovely, lyrical prose, the way the story unfolds over the course of a decade, the implications of living with the decisions made by our younger selves. Really looking forward to this one.

 

 

If you’re wondering, like I am, how you’re going to get through the stack of books on your list, check out Nina Badzin’s six tips for How to Read More Books This Year.

What books are you looking forward to reading? I’m always looking for recommendations. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Be Your Own Hero

If you’ve been a writer for more than five minutes, no doubt you’ve been introduced to Joseph Campbell’s work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (If not, consider this your introduction. You’re welcome.) Campbell combines psychology with mythology to uncover the connections between folk tales told in different cultures across human history.

Through his research, Campbell found a standard set of archetypes in myths told around the world. In short, stories unfold in similar ways, no matter where they originated, because humans find these story structures the most satisfying. Storytellers have used these techniques for millennia.

So we writers often follow the Hero’s Journey for our characters, but what about ourselves? From time to time, we find ourselves mired in doubt and fear; we second guess; we lose our way. It can be difficult to summon the courage to keep typing, and it is sooo much easier to settle down to a Gilmore Girls marathon on Netflix with a bowl of chips and guacamole. (I’m just guessing.)

32964445A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend a talk by author, editor, and coach Kendra Levin. She knows a thing or two about helping writers be confident and stay calm. In her new book, The Hero Is You, Kendra suggests that we can embark on the Hero’s Journey by placing ourselves as the hero of our own story. I’ve never thought about myself as the hero of my own story. Have you?

How can I apply this to my writing life? Heroes protect, serve, and sacrifice.

  • Protect: My time, my ideas.
  • Serve: The greater purpose, what I am trying to say to the world through my writing.
  • Sacrifice: Gilmore Girls may have to wait.

It helps to create a realistic framework for how heroes do this.

  • Goals:
    • Track your progress. For me, this could mean meeting a certain word count each day or simply ensuring I work on my writing projects daily.
    • Break your journey into manageable chunks. It’s daunting to look at my WIP and think about how many pages I have yet to write. Having a separate document for each chapter makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.
    • Reward yourself for each milestone. Maybe I’ll watch the first episode of Gilmore Girls.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses:
    • Strength: I’m a morning person. Get up early, get words on the page.
    • Weakness: Oh, there is something called Gilmore Girls on Netflix?
  • Allies:
    • Find your tribe. Frodo had Samwise, Luke Skywalker had Han Solo, and Lorelai had Rory. I have a dedicated and intrepid writing group. (They are terrific, and I’m not just saying that in case they read this.)

 

kendra-levin-e1484057335875

At the end of her talk, Kendra asked us two questions:

  1. What is one small step you can make in the next week to work toward your goal?
  2. What step could make the biggest impact?

I really didn’t do Kendra’s book justice in this small space. The Hero Is you: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be delves into the different archetypes of  the Hero’s Journey and how that relates to your writing journey. You’ll find lots of encouragement and camaraderie within the pages. 

Have a great weekend, everyone!