I’m a Little Tired of Writers Writing About Writing

Sometimes I need to talk about my reading trends, and today’s installment is that novels about novelists writing just don’t interest me as much as they did a number of years ago.

I’m currently reading a book about an artist, The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. The first story in the book is about an artist working for the Soviet government who censors art: he erases dissidents in painting. It’s an interesting set-up, I learned a little history and a little art, and it’s a job that makes for a good idea to explore in detail in a set of stories. I’m about halfway through, and the painting of a pasture in Chechnya that appears in the first story continues to appear over a significant span of time (from 1937 to 2013), and in every story I learn a bit more about the overlapping lives and families of the characters. It’s a really enthralling book so far.

On the other hand, I just finished listening to My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout which is a shorter novel told by a novelist and her strained relationship with her mother. It’s a story about their time together during Lucy’s extended hospital stay and how Lucy and her mother failed to talk about the miseries of her childhood. The passages of the book talking about what stories writers write (that a writer always writes the same story, whatever that one story is she needs to write) felt a little too on-the-nose for me. It stood out for me especially because the book as a whole was a lesson in things Lucy and her mother left out of their own stories, the stories they told each other and the stories that Lucy wrote. I guess it kind of boiled down to: the only story I have to tell is the story where I leave big gaps, and that was a little frustrating. I think I admire the book, but I’m frustrated by it because I wanted a book that got out of its small world more.

Strout’s book also stands out to me because a few weeks ago I read a novel by a psychiatrist that continually had me wishing that more psychiatrists write novels: their take on character is quite different than in most novels I read. The book is The End of Miracles by Monica Starkman, and it’s a character study of a woman dealing with years of infertility. If a psychiatrist had written about Lucy Barton, that would have been a book I’d have loved.



Catching Up Again

I’ve been reading a few different kinds of novels lately, but no one book has grabbed me enough to want to write a whole post about.

I tried my first Josephine Tey, A Shilling for Candles, this week, and it didn’t win me over. The ending seemed a little out of left field and I lost the thread of the story halfway through when I stopped reading it for a few days. The characters are vivid, but vapid actors and their hangers-on, a religious fanatic, and a tabloid reporter are all characters I’ve read before. Erica Burgoyne, the constable’s daughter who works her way into the investigation, seemed pretty original though. I have a complete set of Josephine Tey so I have more to try.

What I’ve been reading instead of mysteries requiring my utmost attention is memoirs (less of a narrative thread, I think). I just finished the weep-inducing audio of The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe about his mother and their reading endeavors as she went through cancer treatments and now I’m reading the somehow lighter and wryer Disaster Preparedness by Heather Havrilesky about growing up anxious in the 1970s and 1980s while her parents divorced. I’ve liked her stuff for ages: funny, smart, and emotionally affecting as well.

It’s not all murder and gloom in my reading life lately, though: there’s lots of Lemony Snicket and other entertaining kids’ books in my reading diet since my oldest daughter started getting interested in non-picture books. I’m still reading and listening to lots of books lately but my energy for blogging in depth about it isn’t there right now.



Catching Up

murder at savoyI’ve been a slow reader this winter in part because I haven’t found any super-awesome books to read and in part because I’m busy. First, I tried Murder at the Savoy, the sixth in the Martin Beck series, and I was a bit underwhelmed. I do, however, want to know how the crenelated mashed potatoes with fish on the cover (and on which the murdered man fell) taste!

greatlakes walkI’ve tried and abandoned a few other books since then, I enjoyed the audio version of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, and I’m slowly working my way through A 1,000 Mile Great Lakes Walk by Loreen Niewenhuis to distract myself from the winter. I’m in the reading zone where I’m trying lots of different things because I’m not quite sure what I’m in the mood for.


2015 in review

Happy new year, and thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I’ve been posting less and reading less than in years past, but I very much appreciate your reading and all the reading suggestions you’ve shared. You’ve made my reading life very interesting, and I am very grateful.

2015 is the year I started reading lots of older crime fiction to go along with my love of Scandicrime, and I also went on a few non-crime reading jags to balance out my reading. I anticipate reading lots more Margaret Millar in 2016, not only from my collection of used books but from the new ebook editions that are coming out in the US from Syndicate Books. I’ve also started listening to nonfiction on audio so look for a little variety in upcoming posts.

2015 is also the year I shifted my reading challenges to perpetual mode (read a book from every country and every state in the US). My recordkeeping has a few gaps, but of the about 60 books I read, 11 were set in the US followed by Sweden with 7. I added Ukraine and Cambodia to my countries-of-the-world list but did not fare so well in adding American states to my reading. New York and California were the most common settings in my US reading, and I hope to add more non-coastal states to my 2016 reading.

As for 2016 challenges, I am using two challenges to help combat future reading ruts:

  1. Book Riot Read Harder Challenge– It’s a challenge covering lots of genres and some variety in time periods.
  2. Bustle Reads– It focuses on women and writers of color.

I plan on keeping the challenge categories tucked away in my bag or under my computer keyboard to have on hand when I’m looking for something new to read. I think that works a lot better than committing to a list of intended reads at the beginning of the year.

Finally, I am linking to the WordPress summary of my blog stats for the year for reference and entertainment. The continuing popularity of my Latin American Crime Fiction post makes me realize I haven’t read much if any South American books for the year.

Happy new year, all!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.



I’m about to catch up on book review posts after blogging very slowly for the second half of the year. The main reasons are that I’m busy and that most of my favorite reads of the year were from the first half of the year: it’s hard to keep blogging when I feel so-so about books. Anyway, expect a flurry of posts soon.


Mini-Rant: Thrillers That Aren’t Thrillers/ Mysteries That Are Not Mysterious

Insomnia for me means time to try out a lot of books, and I’m a little irritated by books described in the jacket copy as being thrillers or mysteries when they clearly aren’t. Just because a character has a secret past involving a crime doesn’t make a book a thriller or mysterious. Just because a more literary author is branching out into something bit more mysterious doesn’t make the resulting book a mystery. There has to be a little forward momentum, there has to be investigation or some sort of search for truth, and it would be nice if there could be some cliffhangers.


A sleep-deprived mystery fan.


Quick Takes

I’ve been in TV mode for the past month or so, and I just finished the first season of Fargo, the television adaptation of the Coen Brothers movie. I’m slightly tired of the bad-guy-as-superman story, even though I liked Billy Bob Thornton’s performance a lot. The acting was fabulous, it felt like a Coen Brothers movie without being boring (the tone, the artistic shots), and for some reason the artificiality didn’t bother me.

For something a bit more realistic though it’s quite old (published in 1921 and 1915), I read a pair of short stories by Akutagawa, “In a Grove,” and “Rashomon,” both of which inspired the 1951 film Rashomon. The plot comes from In a Grove, and a couple elements in the movie come from the story Rashomon. “In a Grove” is a short story told from multiple perspectives about the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife, and it’s an incredibly unsettling and unresolved story. Unreliable narrators all around in a distilled story. I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I felt I should read the story for crime fiction’s sake and just because I’ve been aware of the story for years.