Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

It’s taken a little while to get here but a book I read propelled me forward. It’s not a book I’m going to go into because it deserves little mention. It’s “Castle” by J. Robert Lennon and after I got over my revulsion of the thing, I decided it was time to write about good books. Good books meaning those that aren’t trash. So let’s start, shall we?

“Coming Home” by Rosamund Pilcher is a massive paperback but a wonderful summer read. The book is set mostly in Cornwall and Pilcher evokes the place pretty good- enough that I must go see it someday! There are quite a few characters that sail in and out but the book centers on Judith Dunbar whom we meet at age 14. Her mother is about to leave to go back to India and she is about to head off to boarding school, all by her lonesome. She befriends a glamorous wildchild, Loveday Carey-Lewis at school and the adventures take off. The friendship twines in and out of their lives and we watch the pair grow and see the choices they make and how they turn out. The book is set near the eve of WWII and Pilcher does a decent job of that though I wish at times there had been closer details, just things like how it was to cook on so much less, etc. Sad things happen, good things happen and it’s definitely a fabulous beach read.

The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries–  Sookie Stackhouse inhabits a strange world no doubt about it. The author agrees with how strange it is as well. I’m on the 5th book and while the number of characters are growing a bit out of control, Harris is steering things along all right and keeping the pace going. It’s never dull in Bon Temps, Lousiana and thank God for that. This is a series read happily with a cold drink in hand. If you dig the whole “what if vampires and fairies really were real?” this may be the series for you…I love it for the Southern setting as well. While this isn’t Flannery O’Connor here, I feel she primed me for this series.

“The Shuttle” by Francis Hodgson Burnett is one of those rip roaring pre-war rides that’s great fun. Okay, so the villian is villianous in the narcissistic way that hits close to some people I’ve known but it felt quite cathartic to see his ending.  “The Shuttle” also possesses a heroine that’s beautiful and good and yet…somehow, I can’t hate. This rarely happens (witness Dickens) and yet Burnett pulls it off. I’m eagerly looking forward to “The Making of the Marchioness” by her that’s coming over from Persephone Books.

Which puts me in mind of Persephone Books. I found them through Danielle over at A Work in Progress– which is a great blog to read about reading, btw! Persephone Books resides London and they print wonderful 20th century books which are out-of-print and undeservedly so.  Wandering through their website is a real treat and their books are fine quality and something I’m entirely addicted to. I really can’t say enough good things about them…they’re a pleasure to do business with.

So that for now but more books for later as I come across them…

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.