To Read Or Read Again

Our bookshelves are sagging. One of these days they are going to fall forward, brackets pulled out of the wall by the weight of all the words.

We’ve taken lots of books to the thrift shop over the years. Some were awful, some were good, but not so good they became best friends. Those are on the shelves.

I know there are people who never re-read a book once it’s finished. But my family isn’t like that. When we find books that we love, we treasure them and read them over and over.

It’s like having a visit with a best friend you haven’t seen in a long time. They may tell you a story that you’ve heard many times over the years. But you want to sit with them, treasuring being in their presence again, even if you know how the story ends.

So which valued friends are weighing down my shelves?

Elizabeth Peters (and in her persona of Barbara Michaels). Mary Norton. Stephen King. Robert A. Heinlein. P.J. Parrish. L. Ron Hubbard. Agatha Christy. James Heriot. John Sandford. Victoria Holt. Elly Griffiths. James S. A. Corey. J.K. Rowlands. Winston Graham. Ann McCaffrey. David Weber. JRR Tolkien. Meg Gardiner. C. J. Box. Barry Lopez.

And on and on and on. I just pulled out a Harry Potter this morning. The book has been read by all three of us so many times that the binding is separating from the pages. Same with some of my Elizabeth Peters books that are almost thirty years old. Same with one book Brite and Fair by Henry Shute, which is almost a hundred years old and still makes me laugh out loud when I carefully turn the fragile pages.

A couple of the Elizabeth Peters books I’ve replaced with newer copies that are sturdier. But I still reach for the well-read ones. Because when I open the old ones, it’s not just the story. It’s the memories of all those who borrowed the book. It’s the finger smudges from all who have read it. It’s the treasures you find inside from dried flowers to breadcrumbs.

All things that show me the story is loved and part of a larger family.

So do you re-read books or are you unable to return to them after finishing?

And what old friends are on your shelves?

What Speaks To You?

In the last post, I listed eleven questions. Interestingly, most of the responses I got said the questions were too hard. Also interestingly, those responses came in to my email rather than here so I think it was difficult to admit that, too. So I decided to prime the pump of opening dialog by answering them myself. Not all at once, of course, as some are hard.

What makes a book speak to you – the characters, the setting, the plot?

For me, it’s always the setting that pulls me in. The characters and the plot keep me in the story world once there, but it’s the setting that hooks me.

I want to immerse myself in a place that resonates, even if it’s somewhere I’ve never been. Ellie Griffith’s book, The Crossing Places comes immediately to mind, with the salt marsh, the space between land and sea. I also think of the late, great, Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody series that took me, over the course of many years, to Egypt.

No matter what the location is, the emotional responses are similar. Especially if the setting is an integral part of the story so it becomes a character in its own right. I want to feel that sand in my clothes, the damp salt air on my skin, the freezing, biting snow (Winterdance, by Gary Paulsen). When the setting is so well written that I can see, smell, feel it, so well written that it no longer becomes just a background description but alive and vital to the story, then I won’t want to leave. I’ll want to read everything that author writes from then on. It’s a dream world that becomes tangible on the page.

I also love it when the author uses setting as a character, as I mentioned. Whether that land is an antagonist, throwing up conflict for the protagonist, or is a supporting character, or even comic relief. Writing like that brings the world even more to life, even if it’s a futuristic place on another planet.

For me, the land is the main character, and I’ll wander there, following the other characters as they move through that story world. I’ll even reach first for a book with a cover that shows the setting.

So what makes you reach for a book? What pulls you in, speaks to you, makes you stay within the pages all the way to the end?


In 1975 I was fifteen. Watergate was current news. The Weather Underground was also making news. Charlie Chaplin was knighted. It was the time of the Convoy of Tears, for those familiar with Vietnam. In music, Glen Campbell was singing Rhinestone Cowboy and I sang When Will I Be Loved along with Linda Ronstadt. My husband, out there in the world unbeknownst to me, was thirteen, which is just really weird to think about. I think I had a crush on a senior at the time. Definitely was not interested in thirteen year old boys.

And I bought a new release book for seventy-five cents. Crocodile on the Sandbank.

That book started a love affair with mysteries, and is probably why I write mysteries. For thirty-eight years I have been reading books by Elizabeth Peters. And books written under her pseudonym, Barbara Michaels. And books under her real name, Barbara Mertz.

Thirty-eight years. Think about that a moment.

Can you imagine the amount of paper she, as a writer, accumulated? You writers will know exactly what I’m referring to. We collect scraps. Scribbled dialog overheard at the laundromat, bits of news that might make a good story some day, notes on writing craft, deleted scenes from drafts that might work in a different tale, and so on. And we always swear some day we’re going to organize all those pieces of paper.

What does that have to do with Elizabeth Peters? Well, she died recently, and it feels like losing a close friend. I have lived thirty-eight years within her imagination. Her words have sent me to places I have never physically been. She has inspired me and made me laugh. And I can’t imagine a future without the anticipation of a new Amelia Peabody or Vickie Bliss.  And that made me wonder how her family  was doing, and that got me thinking they are probably going through years and years of scraps of paper.

To her family, those scraps will be incomprehensible. I can hear them saying to each other ‘why did she keep that?’. I bet those scraps will make them shake their heads, cry, laugh, and grieve together. But only the writer who saved the snippet will understand the reason.

Someday my son will probably be found kneeling by boxes trying to figure out why in the world his mother kept a list of true things police officers have said to people they pull over (I might have a character in that situation some day), or a very tattered book called 2000 Baby Names (character names). Or maybe the book on how people lived in the 1800s (I think I have a western story in me some where).

I am willing to bet Elizabeth Peter’s family decides to hold on to some of those scraps.

Because even if the reason is unknown, they will still understand that words were of value to the writer.

Rest in Peace, Elizabeth, surrounded by stories.