When April ended last Thursday, I was surprised to find that I’d read seven books during the month. Whether it was a result of the pandemic or the tedium of the last weeks of the 13 weeks I couldn’t walk, I don’t know. I just know I couldn’t seem to concentrate to read or listen to much fiction. I had better luck reading nonfiction books.
If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I get most of my books from the public library. The public libraries here closed suddenly in mid-March. Some books I wanted to read were not available from the public library in downloadable form. Waitlists for e-books filled up quickly as people realized it would be weeks or months before they could once again check out physical books.
What I discovered last month was that, in addition to reading books about the craft of writing, it was a good time to tackle my to-be-read (TBR) list. That list is made up of several hundred books I didn’t read when they were published. Some of the books on the list are books I realized months or years after their publication that I had become interested in them.
I read seven books in April. Here are my thoughts about them.
Sycamore Row, by John Grisham
I finally got around to listening to Sycamore Row, by John Grisham. What a treat! It was entertaining and funny.
This book takes us back to the fictional Ford County, Mississippi that Mr. Grisham first wrote about in A Time to Kill. Sycamore Row is a story of inheritance, family greed, a non-relative who inherits everything in Seth Hubbard’s will, and some questionable lawyers. Everyone in town gets interested after it is revealed that Mr. Hubbard’s estate exceeded $20 million.
The path to justice in Sycamore Row runs from Mississippi to Alaska and back to Mississippi. There are surprised witnesses and in the end the reader learns the significance of the sycamore tree.
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides had been on my to-be-read (TBR) list since I heard all the hype about it when it was published last year. This was reinforced when the movie adaptation was publicized. Yet, I didn’t read it until a couple of weeks ago. Or, rather, I listened to it. I regretted not reading it earlier.
The silent patient is Alicia, who murdered her husband, Gabriel, and immediately stopped talking. The narrator throughout most of the novel is Theo, a psychoanalyst who sets out to help Alicia.
In the midst of Theo’s quest to get Alicia to talk – and ultimately, to tell why she killed her husband, Theo discovers vulgar emails his wife of nearly nine years has exchanged with another man.
The Silent Patient was Alex Michaelides’ debut novel. This psychological thriller will keep you turning pages (or speeding up the rate at which the audiobook is being read to you.”
Alicia is a famous artist in London. Her new-found notoriety as a killer makes the price of her paintings skyrocket as she is safely tucked away in a secure facility being analyzed. As the story unfolds, the focus transitions from Alicia to Theo himself and his psychological state. He visits his former therapist, Ruth, who guides Theo through his own feelings of inadequacy. She encourages him to leave his wife.
Then Alicia becomes the temporary narrator in Part 2, Chapter 13. She reveals how much she hates the rifle Gabriel inherited from his father. She describes the days leading up to her shooting Gabriel five times.
A new twist to the story is revealed. At this point, you’re only halfway through The Silent Patient. A lot is packed in this book of only 336 pages (or less than nine hours of listening.)
In case you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you.
Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler
I read a little about this book online and immediately got on the waitlist for the ebook at the public library.
The author, Kate Bowler, was raised an Anabaptist in a section of Manitoba, Canada containing numerous Mennonite communities. She learned early on that Jesus lived and taught the virtues of a simple life. Around the age of 18, Ms. Bowler started hearing about the “prosperity gospel” that many televangelists were preaching. It seemed that everyone was being attracted to this new idea that Jesus wants His followers to be wealthy.
Ms. Bowler describes the “prosperity gospel” as follows: “The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart: Why do some people get healed and some don’t?….The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution.”
In her mid-twenties, Ms. Bowler interviewed “the prosperity gospel’s celebrities” and then wrote a history of the movement. What she found was that the prosperity gospel encourages its leaders to buy private jets and mansions. What she also found were people seeking a way to escape the lives they were living. Some wanted the high life, but most wanted relief from some kind of pain.
Something else Ms. Bowler found was that a part of her sought an escape, even as she cringed at the guarantees the prosperity gospel made. She came to believe God would make a way for her and hardships would merely be detours; however, she no longer believes that.
As a new mother, Ms. Bowler was diagnosed with cancer, and she was told, “Everything happens for a reason” and “God is writing a better story” until she didn’t want to hear it again. It made her feel like everyone had a theory about why she had cancer.
“I wish this were a different kind of story. But this is a book about befores and afters and how people in the midst of pain make up their minds about the eternal questions: Why? Why is this happening to me? What could I have done differently? Does everything actually happen for a reason? If I accept that what is happening is something I cannot change, can I learn how to let go?” – Kate Bowler
I sort of got mired down in the details in rest of the book and eventually lost interest in finishing it. I could not identify with all her “Why me?” thoughts and questions. I’ve had my share of physical problems, but I’ve never asked God, “Why me?” I tend to think, “Why not me?” Jesus never promised us a perfect life. He promised to be with us throughout our lives, no matter what happens.
Kate Bowler teaches at the Duke Divinity School.
The Whistler, by John Grisham
In my blog post on April 6, 2020, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/06/eight-books-i-read-in-march-2020/ , I said, “A John Grisham novel has never disappointed me.” That statement probably still holds. I listened to The Whistler in April, but I didn’t get “into” it like I have the other Grisham books I’ve read. Let’s just say it was probably my fault and not Mr. Grisham’s.
Much of April I seemed weighed down mentally by all the news about the coronavirus-19 pandemic. Many days I had trouble concentrating enough to read. I was trying to listen to The Whistler during one of those reading slumps. I would probably enjoy it more if I read it or listened to it during normal times.
Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different, by Gordon S. Wood
I minored in history in college, and this book reminded me of a history text book. In other words, it told me more than I wanted to know about each of the men the author sees as founders of America. Each chapter was about a different man, and one of them surprised me. I would have liked the book better if Mr. Wood had included several women.
I’m planning to write a blog post on June 29 about some of the founders of America, so I’ll save my other comments about this book until that time.
I won’t hold you in suspense until then, though. The founder I was surprised to find on Mr. Wood’s list of eight men was Aaron Burr.
Stay tuned for more on this topic in a couple of months, just before the 4th of July.
Writing Vivid Settings: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall
I’m sure many of you couldn’t care less about the techniques fiction authors use to write vivid settings. If you’re a fiction fan, you just want the settings in the books you read to be so vivid that they put you there.
I took copious notes from this book, and I believe I learned more than a few things that will improve my writing skills. The book addresses ways to include all the senses in one’s writing, varying sentence structure, using weather for intensity, light to set mood, and detail for realism – but not too much detail, and using similes for world building – but not too many of them. The book gets into deep point-of-view, opening scenes, fight scenes, scary scenes, love scenes, night scenes, indoor scenes word choice, and research.
I highly recommend this book for anyone learning to write fiction.
Fiction Pacing: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall
I also found this book by Rayne Hall to be helpful. In it, she addresses varying the pace throughout a novel. She writes about how the length of sentences and paragraphs can either speed up the action or slow it down. Even word length enters into that, along with how to craft dialogue.
The book talks about how to use (and not use) techniques like flashbacks and memories, euphonics, strong verbs, and descriptions to control the pace in fiction.
Ms. Hall has written numerous writing craft books and I look forward to reading more of them.
Since my last blog post
X-rays last week showed good healing of my fractured tibial plateau so, after 13 long weeks, I was finally allowed to start putting some weight on my right leg. I feel like I’d been set free! I can now go anywhere my walker and I can go. I haven’t tried steps yet! It’s great to be able to go outside, even if we are still under a state-at-home order in North Carolina. I’m thrilled just to be able to walk outside!
Until my next blog post
Read a good book, if you have the luxury of time and concentration. I’m currently listening to A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs.
Be creative. If you are a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.
Stay safe and well. Listen to the medical professionals. We’re all in this together. The life you safe might be mine!
Let’s continue the conversation
If you’ve read The Whistler, by John Grisham, what did you think about it? What have you read lately that you would recommend to the rest of us? Have you supported an independent bookstore recently? If you want to give a shout-out to an independent bookstore, feel free to do so in the comments below or the comments on my Facebook page when I post this blog post later today.
Thanks for stopping by!