What I’m Reading and Why

Had an idea for this series while talking to friends yesterday.  Almost every author advising new writers agrees – you must read as much (if not more) than you write.  That wisdom makes perfect sense to me, so I follow it.  For the sake of getting more things posted while still working my insanely demanding job, I intend to run this series whenever I finish a book and start into something new.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I just finished “The Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova.  Upon first cracking it open, I was impressed by the style and flow.  I have no doubt it reads like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” intentionally.  I say that, but you should know that it is a more modern account and is really about several historians as they search for the truth about Vlad “The Impaler” and his dark legacy.  As such, it balances light with dark themes and lures you into a more “historical fiction” style of the Dracula legend.  Unlike other vampire stories, this book is a serious literary contribution.  There are the elements that make the reader stay hooked and coming back for more (character development, mystery, adventure, romance), but without the “teenager with raging hormones,” stamp of approval.  You will not find a group of readers in “Camp Paul,” versus those in “Camp Rossi.”  For that, I am very thankful. 

This is Kostova’s first novel!  Oh, please let me be as blessed!  Reader BEWARE – if you have no patience for long books – this one is 704 pages.  That’s nearly twice the page count for the average reader of fiction.  Oh, please let me be as prolific!

I didn’t choose this book, it chose me.  I was in between pages that held my interest and it grabbed me out of the e-library stacks.  I stayed in it because it made me feel like a scholar in the Oxford library wiping dust from an ancient volume bound in worn leather.  I hope to improve my skills in imagery having put this one in my bank.

The Shining by Stephen King

Immediately after finishing this one, I started on an older book, Stephen King’s, “The Shining.”  I have never watched the movie rendition of this book other than the occasional Jack Nicholson “Redrum” clips.  Not a fan of King’s books until recently, this is probably because I had no idea he had more than just gore and horror.  It wasn’t until I read his book, “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft,” that I got curious about some of his other offerings.  I picked up “The Dead Zone,” and then “The Body,” “11.22.63,” the “Dark Tower” series … well it’s just that now I’m hooked.  I have always been a student of sociology and psychology – in awe about how just a single synapse could be the difference between monsters like Ted Bundy and people like Oprah Winfrey.  Stephen King does “Psychological Thriller” like nobody’s business!

If you want a writer to take you on a journey of escape, while still rooting you in some lessons about people and relationships – Stephen King is your answer.  Just a few pages into “The Shining” and I’m reeling at how effortlessly he tells me the grisly detail of how this guy (a dry alcoholic) broke his baby boy’s arm … and then pages later makes me empathize and still see this guy and his family in human terms.  In the world outside the pages, it would be so easy – common, in fact – to write this guy off for the asshole he appears to be.  When Mr. King writes it, you have to really try hard to demonize him and the family that chooses to stay with him.  “Life has to go on for these people,” King says with the story, “Put their shoes on and deal with it.”

That’s what I love about his style – he finds unique situations, often times rooted in gut-level reality, and he doesn’t dismiss truth for the sake of entertainment in these stories.  If I could emulate only one writer – it would currently be Stephen King.  I’m reading him because I’d like to be able to infuse his style into my mysteries.

I won’t even go into the typical King spin that grants someone in the story a unique but stigmatizing power (like reading people’s minds) and how that tickles my fancy.  Read it yourself!

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