The Best Way to “Reread” Your Favorite Books

When I was 14 years old, I wandered into my local Barnes and Nobles with the summer reading list my high school had given me. There were hundreds of options on it that I could hardly make sense of. So I handed it to an employee and she quickly zeroed in on John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. She told me that if it wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, I could come back to the store and throw it at her.

I never threw the book at her, because it’s still my all-time favorite. If she’s out there, I’d love to thank her.

I’m not one for rereading books. There are just too many new stories to discover, but when I found myself with a few Audible credits to use, I thought, this might be a good way to revisit some old favorites. It can be hard to follow an audiobook for 20 hours or more (though I’m getting better at it), so rather than trying to follow a new story–and incessantly having to rewind–I downloaded my old pal Owen.

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“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” No More

book-jacket 2Michelle McNamara spent years working on a book about The Golden State Killer. She died in her sleep before she was able to finish the book–in part because of the substances she used to cope with the horror of investigating these crimes. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, and a couple of collaborators made sure the book was finished and published. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was published a few weeks ago to huge acclaim. Today, police announced THEY’VE TAKEN A SUSPECT INTO CUSTODY!

You couldn’t write this stuff if you tried.  Continue reading

One Woman Book Club: The Stand

“She reminded me of a warning I was fond of repeating: do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.”  – Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

These words appear on the first page of Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I took down off the shelf today after finally finishing The Stand by Stephen King. I found both books in the donated piles at the Welles Turner Memorial Library Book Sale–the kind of lovely town event where kids show up towing red wagons and you see spouses barking at each other about who is supposed to cover which table. But after spending the better part of three months with the lone survivors of the super flu (aka Captain Trips), I was on the hunt for something very, very different. Little did I know that the first page of Nafisi’s book would send me back to the often bleak world of The Stand. Continue reading

Suggested Reading for MLK Day

518ltrukkylI read Dreamer by Charles Johnson in college and it has stuck with me ever since. It’s earned a permanent space on my bookshelf, where real estate is precious. If we’re lucky, we learn a lot about the history of Martin Luther King Jr. but it’s hard to imagine the pressure he was under. You hear a bit of it in that last speech–the sense of impeding doom. But this book takes a different–fictional– look at the last days of one this country’s greatest leaders. I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a passage from the Amazon description that got me thinking about the book I’m currently reading:

“While in Chicago for his first northern campaign against poverty and inequality, King encounters Chaym Smith, whose startling physical resemblance to King wins him the job of official stand-in. Matthew Bishop, a civil rights worker and loyal follower of King, is given the task of training the smart and deeply cynical Smith for the job. In doing so, Bishop must face the issue of what makes one man great while another man can only stand in for greatness. “

51flperiwvlAt the moment, I’m reading The Other Wes Moore by none other than Wes Moore. It’s the story of two men with the same name. One ends up in jail while the other becomes a distinguished military officer and writer (who spoke at the DNC in 2008). There are plenty of parallels to be drawn between the two books. How do two men with so much–and yet so little–in common, end up in such entirely different places?

If you’re looking for beautiful prose, the Johnson book is for you. If you’re hoping to peek behind the curtain of reality, the Moore book should be on your list. But I suggest reading both.  Continue reading

One Woman Book Club: Swamplandia!


Swamplandia! first caught my attention when I heard about it on NPR (or here). If you’d asked me, I would have said the book came out in 2014, but apparently it was 2011. Time just keeps slipping away…

It took me a while to really get into the book. It made me chuckle and the lovely writing kept me going, but I wasn’t sure where it was headed (which, I guess, is a good thing in a world where so much seems so obvious all the time). But in the end I was glad I stuck it out.

Author Karen Russell told NPR, “The Bigtree family members have created their own fantastical history springing from their alligator-wrestling tradition, but in reality, they’re just the lowly operators of a shabby tourist attraction in a swamp.” Swamplandia! is funny, and weird, and heartbreaking. You’ll find yourself wishing the place was real so you could give the family your tourist dollars… but if you don’t like to see characters you care about punished, it may not be for you.

I ventured on to the web to find questions to help me discuss this latest read. Here it goes! Continue reading

The One Woman Book Club: Catcher in the Rye



I somehow managed to make it through school without having to read J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Frankly, I’m kind of grateful for that. When I was in high school we read The Lord of the Flies and A Separate Peace back to back. Fed up with wretched teenage boys, I asked my teacher when we were going to stop reading all the dude books. He countered by assigning To Kill a Mockingbird. As you might imagine, I enjoyed that a lot more. Still, I miss discussing books–even the ones I don’t like. So I decided to start my own one-woman book club.

I ventured onto the web in search of a few questions to discuss.  Continue reading

The Road to Romance

I’ve always thought it would be fun to write a romance novel. I don’t really read these books, but something about them makes me think I could learn a lot from writing one. They are notoriously formulaic, and writers have to adhere to very strict standards in order to be successful. Something about writing a book “by the numbers” seem like an exercise in discipline.

I have a tendency to “wing it” when I’m writing. I get a spark of an idea and I just go from there without any kind of roadmap–which leads to a lot of dead ends. If I was going to embark on this project, I thought, I should make it as structured as possible. To that end, I started a blog about it: The Road to RomanceContinue reading

Just Say No to “Go Set a Watchman”

I don’t recommend trying to go to your local bookstore today. Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman came out this morning and there are, no doubt, long lines of To Kill a Mockingbird fans waiting to purchase it. I will not be one of them.

If you’ve been following this story, you’ll know that Harper Lee has prevented this book from being published for decades. She wrote it before she wrote her beloved classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, but has kept it secreted away for years. But now, as the author pushes 90-years-old the book is being published–most likely against her wishes and under very shady circumstances.  Continue reading

On Writing ‘n Stuff

Not my desk, or my photo.

Not my desk, or my photo. (Nancy L. Stockdale, Flickr Creative Commons)

You may recall that my cat was diagnosed with gallstones. I spent a month fearing that without surgical intervention my cat would get sick again as soon as she went off her meds. I didn’t know what to do. Then, one night, as I sat on my couch editing a book for a freelance project, I came up with an idea. I needed to write a book, get an advance, and use it to pay for the cat’s surgery.

I know that sounds like a bad plan, and it would be except that I work for a publishing company with a book wing — and the publisher had been trying to get me to write a book for years. We just hadn’t been able to come up with a subject that interested us both. But I’d recently been toying with an idea that I thought would work. So I quickly shot off an email and asked if it would be of interest.

It was.  Continue reading

Surviving the Library Book Sale

20140512-195851.jpgFor quite some time now I’ve been trying to read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedomwithout having to actually buy it and give that condescending fancypants any money. A library would seem to be the obvious choice, but my cousin informed me that there is a  rather large late fee associated with our old address so I’ve been avoiding it. Then, this weekend, my boyfriend and I headed to the center of town to get breakfast at a coffee shop before walking over to a plant sale where a local community farm was selling heirloom tomato plants. And it just so happened that the library I can’t set foot in was also having its annual book sale that day.

I’d never actually been to one of these book sales before. I assumed it would be filled with books like the ones I donate to the library every year: old textbooks, stuff I inherited and never read, and a dictionaries no one needs anymore. There was a lot of that. I even found myself wondering if some of the books I saw on the tables were mine, but I headed straight for the fiction table and almost immediately spotted a hardcover copy of Freedom. An old man was in my way and he didn’t look like he was in a hurry to move along. He wasn’t like a frail old man or anything. He was  tall, and I’d like to think he’s a runner.  I say this because I practically had to elbow him out of the way before  the book vultures could swoop in and steal my chance to screw Jonathan Franzen out of his royalty.  Continue reading

The Tao of Theresa

Fresh eggs make me feel very zen.

I feel a special kind of satisfaction when someone blares their horn at me for no reason–usually at a stop light–and then has to follow me for a few miles. It’s even better when they blare their horn again before turning. I mean, it’s a little mean-spirited but I can’t help smiling at the knowledge that someone is fuming–however temporarily–over something so small, while I continue on my merry way. I leave feeling like I’ve just given someone a little lesson in not sweating the small stuff.

I found myself in front of an angry driver on my way home from the grocery store this evening, and I started thinking about it in a new way because, last night before bed, I started reading The Tao of Pooh. My Kindle needed charging, and so I picked up the book that was laying on my nightstand, waiting for me to finish Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (which is taking me awhile because of the less than page-turning plot).

I instantly connected with the Taoist philosophy (as explained through Winnie the Pooh) in a way I didn’t expect. I don’t consider myself a religious–or even particularly spiritual–person. If I had to pick something I’d probably become a Wiccan (because I’d get to dress like Stevie Nicks and celebrate the solstice and whatnot). This sounds like a pretty good philosophy, right: “Harmony and balance encourage to neither be too good nor too bad, but to find the balance in our lives.” Sounds to me like if we could all take a lesson from the Wiccans, the world would be a much better place. But Pooh has his own wisdom to share.

“We don’t need to shift our responsibilities onto the shoulders of some deified Spiritual Superman, or sit around and wait for Fate to come knocking at the door. We simply need to believe in the power that’s within us, and use it. When we do that, and stop imitating others and competing against them, things begin to work for us.”

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Adventures in Self-Publishing: For the Love of Zombies

zombieWhen I decided to start my experiment in self-publishing by publishing Fiona vs. the Foot Tickler I had a theory that the only way to be truly successful in this world is with zombie, vampires, werewolves, or fairies. Or at least those critters seem to be the fastest way to self-publishing success in the fiction world. So for a few years I’ve been mulling over a couple of ideas about vampires and zombies.

I’ve started the vampire story more times than I can count, but haven’t been able to make it work… not yet anyway. I had a little more success with my zombie story–which is really a zombie story for people who aren’t necessarily all that into zombies.  Continue reading

A Small Quiet Room

The other day a friend sent me a G-Chat message asking if I’d ever ready anything by Cheryl Strayed. “WHY YES, I HAVE!” I told him and launched into my standard praise of Wild.  Then he sent me this “DEAR SUGAR” column, and it made me tear up. it’s the kind of thing we should all print out and give to any daughters we might have one day: Continue reading

A Mad Dash Through “Under the Dome”

A little over a week ago I saw a commercial for a new mini-series coming to CBS called Under the Dome.  I immediately recognized this as an adaptation of a book I gave to my brother a few years back. Since I’d been struggling my way through a strange Icelandic mystery I thought this was a good excuse to start a new book, and borrowed it from my brother.

The paperback comes in at just over 1,000 pages and I quickly realized I was going to have to make quick work of it if I was going to make it before the miniseries stars on June 24. Luckily, it’s a Stephen King book…and no one keeps you turning the pages like he does. Continue reading