Happily Reading Myself to Death

75-bedsideMedia-HP-1Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sun rise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. More typically, the reason is both more mundane and more reflective of who I am. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

Cover of "Song of the Beast"

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central government, a free peasantry and what became the middle class. There was the Black Death, the schism when two popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Christian world. There was endless war, brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had  survived the other catastrophes of those years. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that oddly comforting, though I can’t imagine why.

I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and prisons. Then, when I need to escape, I turn to science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in other worlds, other realities that could never be, in futures that may yet be as I pursue magic and sorcery.

Cover of "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

In an ironic turn, I’m giving Jane Austen another chance. I hated her books in school, but felt that 40 years having passed, it might be time to try one more time and so I find myself in the middle of “Pride and Prejudice.” I will never be a Jane Austen fan, but I am recognizing much of the wit that eluded me when I was younger and although it isn’t my favorite fiction, I can see where it might be someone else’s.

It is indeed the ultimate drug for me. Take away everything else, but leave me books so that if I cannot fly away in body, I can escape in spirit.

I am, for the moment, between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the process of creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set … in the future … and waiting has never been something at which I excel. Now is my time to search for new writers, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore.

I thought I’d make a short list for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. I am also a very big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin and cannot recommend her books too highly: they are wonderful. Her tome on Lincoln, Team of Rivals which became at least in part the basis of Spielberg’s Lincoln, or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. Her most recent book, Ever After is the best yet … and they are all marvelous.

Don’t miss Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid series. Great in print, on Kindle and as an audiobook. And you can get an autographed copy. It’s a series that has been getting better with each new book and I’m expecting great things.

Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series … a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case. His most recent book, Cold Days was better than ever and is taking the story in deliciously creepy directions.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories I’ve ever read including All Seated on the Ground, Bellwether, and a bunch of others.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

Dave Robicheaux Series

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her few books that isn’t part of a series, may I recommend Song of the Beast. Hint: I hope you like dragons!

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary, but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day, and she also inspired me to a personal courage I doubt I’d have otherwise found. The English language versions of the books are long out of print, but the recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and a possibly other languages. You can get more information through the Friends of Angelique.


I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose worlds I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fford writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

Categories: Arts, Books, Literature, Reviews, Writing

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