Thursday, March 25, 2021

Fully Interlocking Pieces, by Catriona

Reading: Last year, about a month into “Lockdown Life”, the internet was a-buzz with ways to “pass the time”; reading was high on that list, for many people. Have you read more/more widely/differently/less during the past 12 months? Please tell us a bit about what, and why?

When Cathy Ace was redecorating her house (useful) as a way to pass the time, I was doing the jigsaw puzzles (less useful) that I'd been avoiding because they looked too hard, while Coronation Street (essential) burbled away on Britbox beside me. This one was a killer:

But that's not the question.

Have I read more? I think so. I've certainly been keeping better reading notes than ever. In 2019 and years preceding, I started out jotting down my reading in my diary. Jan, Feb, March . . . all fine. Then spring, the beach, Edgars, Malice, Edinburgh, Bouchercon, houseguests . . . and all of a sudden I hadn't written anything down for months and the books were shelved all over the house, or left behind in Scotland, loaned out, donated . . . gone. 

Last year and this year, I wrote all the titles down in the notebook, on my desk, in my house, where I was too. I also started posting them on my website under "News and Events" because, seriously, what I was reading was about the only news I had to post, back in the spring when the screamer at the top of every website page was "Whatever it was, it's cancelled".

(Yesterday, on the phone to my mum I said - not sarcastically - "Oh, you'll never guess where I've been today? To the corner of the track to take cuttings from that fig tree growing in the drainage ditch." Man, life's going to feel fizzy when we're back to normal, isn't it?)

Have I read more widely? I thi-ink so. Looking at early 2019 before it all fell apart in a giddy whirl of travel, and comparing 2020, I see Stephen King, Elly Griffiths, Ovidia Yu, Ann Cleeves, Colson Whitehead, Hilary Mantel (no website; there's fame!), as well as people I'm on a panel with, people I'm on a shortlist with, Edgar nominees, Booker winners ... all of which suggests no change.

But then, as "Whatever it was it's cancelled" turned into "Whatever it was, it's virtual" and I started attending events - especially Noirs at the Bar - all over the country, the buy links began to sing to me and I definitely clicked on books I might not have come across before, both books featured in the event and staff picks at the particular bookshop involved.

For example, I don't read many short stories (or write many either), but after hearing Jessica Laine's teaser of "The Sundowner" and Richie Narvaez's Oscar-worthy performance (you couldn't call it a reading) of "Bobo" during a N@B I bought and devoured Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas, which sent me off in search of further short stories by the contributors, and I ended up reading more short stories last year than in all the other years of reading put together.

Also, one of the staff picks one night was In the Dream House, a haunting memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. Now, I do read memoirs quite often, but usually (inevitably?) they're memoirs of people I've heard of. I would never have found this lyrical, brutal account of domestic abuse without that online event and the staff member of the supporting bookshop who picked it. It's like the memoir that launched a thousand domestic noir novels. And it's a memoir with a plot twist! How often do you get that?

Have I read differently? Yes, definitely. For a reason that makes no sense at all - not options paralysis, not creeping rigidity, not because I realised I'd bought the same book twice - I decided to put my TBR shelves into alphabetical order and read from A-Z. Except when I'm blurbing, or it's a new Tracy Clark/ Kristen Lepionka/Harlan Coben. (We've all got our 'drop everything' authors; these are some of mine.) Thus I finally read Alafair Burke's The Better Sister, which I've had since it was an ARC,and Brian Allen Carr's Opioid, Indiana and Michael Connelly's Late Show . . . all books I'd owned for at least a couple of years. I'm up as far as Tori Eldridge now, so I've finally made the acquaintance of Lily Wong.

And if you must know why I went ABC all of a sudden, it's because I noticed Neil's TBR shelves one day, while doing yoga in our bedroom, and had to unwind from eagle pose and put both feet on the ground. We have been together a while now. Next month is our silver wedding anniversary. People, he colour-codes his books and I never knew. When I mocked him*, he hit back with "Well, how do you sort yours then?" When I opened my mouth to deliver my zinger of a reply I realised I had nothing. 

*We've both been working at home for 53 weeks. It's going really well. 

Neil in distance: Quite well. 

Me: Pretty well. 

NiD: Somehwhat well.

Me: Fairly well.

NiD: I've got a Zoom now.

Me: (whispering) I win.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good post, Catriona. I'm been reading more, and more widely, too. In fact, I just finished 'Go to My Grave' which I think is awesome.

Richie Narvaez said...

Thank you for the shout out! I want to thank the Academy . . .

I've been reading more widely as well, a lot of non-U.S. crime fiction. Plus, I have SCOT FREE on my TBR pile.

Ann Mason said...

I’m reading more now than I was at first when concentration was difficult. Plus the broken ankle thing. About four hours a day reading means going thru books like salts thru a widow woman. Why she must be widowed is a mystery. So keep righting, people. I’m gaining on you

Ann said...


Michele Drier said...

I like your alphabetical system. Mine is stack them in piles all over the bedroom floor and read the ones that fall off the stack. Not very scientific.

Lyda McPherson said...

The whole "inability to concentrate" phase was devastating. I turned to reading series that were familiar to me, as a sort of anchor for my thoughts. I went through Elly Griffiths archeology series then, sticking with her, I read her latest "Stranger Diaries". Joe Ide and Matt Coyle made it to the party as did Terry Shames. There were some stand alones along the way. (I couldn't miss Carl Hiaasen, Squeeze Me). I also returned to knitting...with a vengeance. If you see me in August wearing a handmade bulky knit turtleneck pullover, don't ask.

Susan C Shea said...

I think In the Dream House must be added to my TBR stacks and stacks. I needed to balance a year of excessive crime fiction reading with other tastes. Went all the way to Love in a Cold Climate (Nancy Mitford) and swung into A Short Philosophy of Birds (DuBois/Rousseau) and Poems of Five Decades (Langston Hughes)but my TBR stacks just keep getting larger. (P.S. How does Neil ever find anything with his book filing system?)

Lisa Alber said...

It’s funny. Now that things are opening up in the wider world a bit, I feel like I’m opening up again in MY world — glad to be here reading your post, ecstatic to be moving forward on the gothic girl’s school novel ... And to your post :-), I definitely read more randomly, but for some reason, less than usual.

Catriona McPherson said...

Thank you, Dietrich!

Thanks in advance, Richie!

"salts through a widow" is a new one on me, Ann. I'm filing it.

Michele, LOL. Watch out for those Stephen King hardbacks hitting your toes though.

Lyda, have you read The Postscript Murders? Even better.

Susan, that's only his bedside TBR. The rest of the bookshelves in the house are waaay above his paygrade.

Keenan Powell said...

Didn't read quite as many books as the year before; reading interfered with my sleeping. I got hooked on Mick Herron's series and when I'd finished that, moved onto John Le Carre. Now I'm listening to the George Smiley books in order. Am nursing a huge crush on Smiley.