Do You Read in Time?

Do you read in time? By that, I mean do you read stories in the month or season in which they are set? Most readers have their favorite Christmas and Halloween stories that they reread around those holidays. Since I love mysteries, and for some reason Christmas and mysteries like to hang out for the holiday season, I have tons to choose from.

But I also read stories which are set during non-holiday times. My brother-in-law, for example, reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early spring each year because the Battle of Pelennor Fields, the epic battle at the end of The Return of the King, is fought in March.

I read Watership Down in June because that’s when the story starts. It covers most of the summer with an epilogue in the fall, but I read it in June because the description of nature is so lush that it seems to fit in that month. For the same reason, I read The Time Machine in summer. The Time Traveler travels to the year 802,701. This England of far in the future is experiencing a gold summer so it makes sense to reread it during this season. I read the mystery stories featuring Uncle Abner as the detective in fall because some of my favorite stories from this series are set them, although others are set in other seasons.

I think I like to read in time because it makes me feel closer to the story, like I’m living it with the characters.

Sometimes, I choose to read a book at the same time I discovered it. I took The Father Hunt by Rex Stout with me on our summer vacation a few years ago. It was so wonderful to rediscover this mystery that I packed it again for our next summer vacation and will continue to do so this year. The flip side of that is that bad circumstances can make me dislike a story. I read a Nero Wolfe novella while driving home from visiting my parents during the holiday season. For some reason, I got car sick while my husband drove. The next time I tried to read the novella, that sensation of nausea came over me again. Fortunately, after a space of several years, I could reread the story with no ill effects.

Write in Time

I also tend to write in time. In A Shadow on the Snow, I have pivotal scene occur during a snowstorm on Valentine’s Day and the novel ends on Good Friday. For the next novel in the series, I open on Memorial Day and plan to wrap it up on Father’s Day. Using the holidays as touchstones isn’t something I thought a lot about. Since family is critical to my stories, it makes sense to work in holidays, which are often the most memorable events in the life of a family.

What do you think? Besides reading Christmas stories at the appropriate time, do you read in time?

What Are Your Favorite Book Genres?

The month of May is all about readers on JPC Allen Writes. I’ll be discussing all kinds of bookish topics. So today I’m asking what are your favorite book genres? If you’ve visited my site very often, you know that my #1 favorite genre is mystery. But there are many subgenres under mystery. I love classic mysteries and cozy mysteries. Below are links to my reviews of some of my favorite mystery novels and short stories.

After mysteries, I like speculative fiction and humor.

Now it’s your turn. What are you favorite book genres?

The Father Hunt by Rex Stout

Since it’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I’m featuring one of my favorite novels. One surprising pleasure of getting older is finding new enjoyment in books I originally didn’t like. The summer I was twenty, I tried the Father Brown mysteries and didn’t like them at all. Twenty years later, I read them and couldn’t get enough of them. I wrote about that in my blog post last month about my favorite mysteries. The same thing happened with The Father Hunt by Rex Stout.

I discovered the Nero Wolfe series when I was a junior in college and slowly built up my personal library of these mysteries. Somewhere along the line, I acquired a copy of The Father Hunt. The first reading didn’t impress me because when I decided to pack it for a trip to the beach last summer, I didn’t remember anything about it. But I took it on vacation, and the novel hooked me.

Maybe I love it now because it’s not your typical Nero Wolfe mystery. It was written late in the series, and perhaps Mr. Stout was trying a different kind of mystery with a different structure.

Amy Denovo, a twenty-two-year-old college graduate, hires Nero Wolfe and his bodyguard and legman Archie Goodwin to find out who her father is. Her mother Elinor, who recently died in a hit-and run, never breathed a word about him or her own background. But on her death, Elinor left Amy a note, saying that her father sent her $1,000 every month since she was born. Elinor refused to spend it, so now it belongs to Amy–$264,000.

With nothing more to go on than the bank that issued the checks, Wolfe and Archie take the case.

Usually, in a Nero Wolfe mystery, a crime, most often murder, is committed and only a handful of people are possible suspects. Sometimes there’s a second or third murder, each providing more clues until the killer is caught. The Father Hunt begins with no crime, although seasoned mystery fans are instantly suspicious of any unsolved hit-and-run. What I like is how Archie investigates, following one lead after another, bringing his findings to Wolfe, who directs their strategy. Each time they think they reach a dead end, they find another path to follow, such as they uncover the man who wrote the checks but refuses to say why. He proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was in a hospital when Amy was conceived. So Wolfe and Archie begin digging into his relatives and associates.

The other thing I like is that the suspects and other people questioned are more fleshed out, seem more like real people. Many times in mysteries, the characters are just props to misdirect the reader. But these characters come alive when described by Archie Goodwin:

Cyrus M. Jarrett, the man who wrote the checks:

As he approached I noted that he looked his seventy-six, but he walked more like fifty-six. Then he got closer and sat and I saw the eyes and they looked a thousand and seventy-six.

Dorothy Sebor, a businesswoman in her fifties, who tells Archie she’s never worked for a man and never intends to. Because of her assistance, Archie says he’ll send her roses and asks what kind she would like.

“Green with black borders. If you sent me ten dozen roses I’d sell then to some customer. I’m a businesswoman.”

She certainly was.

Elinor Denovo. Aside from the fact that she never talked about her life before Amy was born to anyone, she also had no photos of herself. After Archie interviews Amy and goes over the apartment she shared with her mother, he reports to Wolfe.

“I’ll skip the details of the inspection unless you insist. As I said, no photographs, which is fantastic. The letters and other papers, a washout. If we fed them to a computer I would expect it to come up with something like SO WHAT or TELL IT TO THE MARINES.”

Because of rediscovering this gem, I reread other stories in the series, trying to find a new favorite among old books.

What about you? Have you fallen in love with a book on the second time around?

Where Would You Go on a Literary Vacation?

Teachers and librarians have told us since we were in kindergarten that books transport us to new worlds. If you could choose any location in any story, where would you go on a literary vacation? I’ve always had the desire to check out Airbnb for hobbit holes that I could book for two weeks. I’d spend my time puttering around the Shire.

But then I think traveling 20,000 leagues under the sea in a luxury submarine might be better, as long as the captain wasn’t a revenge-seeking evil genius. The sub would stop at points of interests under the waves, the highlight being a day to suit up in scuba gear and explore the ruins of Atlantis.

Your turn. Where would you go on a literary vacation?

If you would like to see more bookish questions from this month, click here.

Three Ways Writers Can Reclaim Reading Joy

As I said at the beginning of the month, it’s difficult for me to read for pleasure because I read through my writer’s lens and evaluate a story as a writer, not as a reader. I still struggle with this problem but discovered three ways writers can reclaim reading joy.

Schedule Time to Read

That may not sound like fun. I have to schedule time to read like a dental appointment? But I’ve found that with a husband and kids, if I don’t schedule everything–even something as minor as my pleasure reading–I will never stumble across a free hour to sit down with a book. I have never stumbled across a free hour to do anything since my kids were born. Now I understand why my mother often took a book to the bathroom.

On Sundays, I don’t do any writing or anything related to publishing. I try to read just for the fun of it. I’m not always successful. I’m so wired to work that it’s hard to relax. But it’s nice to stretch out with a book other than at bedtime.

Read Dead Authors

A good piece of advice for writers pursuing publication is to become familiar with the books currently being published in their genre. The drawback of that advice is that writers constantly analyze those books, comparing them to their work in progress, robbing themselves of reading joy.

Reading great books from the past in my genre removes the need to dissect them. It also educates me in the history of my genre.

Read a Genre You Don’t Write

Reading a genre I have no intention of writing in helps silence, or at least muffles, my internal editor. I can more easily approach a book of historical fiction or sci-fi as a reader than as a writer.

That’s one reason I enjoy reading poetry. I know I’ll never publish anything I write, so reading it is simply fun.

Writers, how do you reclaim reading joy? Readers, what do you do when the joy drains out of reading?

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