BOOK & BLOG
May 30, 2011
Books of the Week:
When Robert B. Parker, one of the great mystery writers, died in January of 2010, he left some books behind him in addition to the many other books he’d written in his prolific lifetime. Sixkill is the next to last of the unpublished books, and it’s standard Parker. Spenser, Parker’s most famous character, has always had a penchant for taking in lame ducks and teaching them how to be men, and the Cree Indian tough guy Zebulon Sixkill, former bodyguard to dissolute movie star Jumbo Nelson, gets the full Spenser treatment. Nelson is accused of murdering a young woman found dead in his hotel suite, and private eye Spenser must wade through some dirty water to discover the truth, Sixkill at his back.
I reread Ilona Andrews’s Magic Bites because so many people were recommending it to me all over again. Truthfully, the second time around was actually better than the first read, because this book stands out more now that the urban fantasy field is so crowded. Kate Daniels, who lives in an Atlanta where magic surges are common, is reckless and determined; but she’s never boring or stereotypical. The forces ranged against her as she investigates her mentor’s murder are both complex and frightening, but she is stubborn enough to persist. If you’ve passed up this book, read it now.
Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is a nonfiction account of the ordeal of American runner Louis Zamperini, who found redemption on the track after being the kind of boy mothers dread their kid will become a thief, a liar, a poor scholar, a total troublemaker. After competing in the Olympics, Zamperini joined the Army Air Corps on the outbreak of World War II. As he searched for a downed plane, his own plane crashed, and Zamperini’s ordeal began. I’ll finish this book on my next trip (it’s on my ebook reader, which I don’t use unless I’m travelling), but it’s simply an amazing tale.
A reader contacted me on Facebook recently to ask me to explain some passages in the latest Sookie book. She had several paragraphs of comments and questions about Dead Reckoning. While I was flattered that she’d obviously thought deeply about the book, I had to decline the chance to write paragraphs and paragraphs back to her.
While I was on tour, I was handed letters by many readers, some who felt they’d be too overwhelmed when they were actually talking to me to tell me what they wanted to say, and some who had lengthy complaints about the books or the website that they wanted me to resolve or consider.
The notable thing about these requests is this: none of them would have been possible, or even conceivable, fifteen years ago. Contacting the writer to question her about her work was something almost no one would do. But now, with the advent of the internet, and my use of the social networks and my visits to my own website, such contacts are frequent.
I feel frustrated and concerned about the issues raised in these encounters, much the same way I feel when I read a review of one of my books that simply gets the facts wrong.
The frustration arises because I can’t seem to get everyone on the same page with me, and I realize I never will. If I have to explain my books, that leaves me believing that there are two alternatives: A, the reader is not bright, or B, I didn’t write the books very well. But I’ve come to realize that if neither of these is true (and it’s apparent that at the least, my readers are VERY bright), then there must be a third choice, and it’s this. I’m not telling the story the reader wants to hear, and therefore I’m wrong.
In the old days, before the age of reader entitlement, I would never have known about this. The reader would put down the book and perhaps she would not buy the next one. It would be unthinkable to ask me to explain what I meant. By the same token, it would be unthinkable to ask me to change the course of the books or to chastise my moderators, who have sacrificed hours of their time and every scrap of their patience in dealing with visitors to the site who don’t agree with their rulings.
I’m not “too important” to listen to my readers; but I really think my job is writing. I’m also not above criticism, but I try my hardest to write the best books I can. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I have provided this website, which takes a tremendous about of work, so my readers can come to talk to other readers and to get all the latest news on my books and travels. There will not always be harmony on my board, and there won’t always be agreement on what my books mean and the way my characters change to meet different situations, but I suppose I was silly to expect that.
As long as I’m talking about the internet and the changes it’s brought about in the writer’s world, let me just tack this tidbit. At a party in New York, I was talking to Melissa Marr and her agent Merilee Heifitz, who is also Laurell K. Hamilton’s agent. To my surprise, I discovered that Laurell and I are feuding, a fact that had slipped our notice. We both wonder what we’re feuding about; but there’s probably someone on a website somewhere who will tell us.
© 2011 Charlaine Harris